Friday, February 17, 2006

Apple #149: J.D. Salinger

So I'm reading a J.D. Salinger book, Franny and Zooey. I'm enjoying it very much. I've read it a few times before, but I feel like this time through is the first time I've really understood it. There's a lot of description of the Glass family, how they were on a whiz kids radio quiz show, and that they were a big family, and everyone was very smart, but that this made them each feel isolated in some way.

I'm wondering, as I have before, if the Salinger family was anything like the Glass family. I'm also wondering what's the latest on Mr. Salinger. Everyone says he's essentially a hermit and completely incommunicado. But is this still true? Has anything changed?

First, the connections between the Salingers and the Glass family.

  • Salinger grew up in Manhattan / the Glass family apartment is in Manhattan
  • Salinger's father was a Jewish importer of Kosher cheese / Glass father is Jewish
  • Salinger's mother was Scotch-Irish / Glass mother is Irish
  • Young Jerome was often called Sonny / Narrator of Franny and Zooey is called Buddy
  • Salinger was a devotee of a particular study of Hindu mysticism, and also studied Zen Buddhism extensively / Quite a few members of the Glass family are well-versed in Buddhist, Hindu, and other mystical texts.
I know it's sort of pointless to draw parallels between a character in a book and the author. I understand that you can never say, "This character is the author," or anything even close to that. But I do like to know what the similarities are.

Some little facts about Salinger that I found interesting include:

  • He was drafted into the infantry during World War II and was involved in the invasion of Normandy. He was also involved in a battle at Hürtgenwald, a particularly bloody and horrific battle. Not surprisingly, he was hospitalized briefly for stress after this experience.
  • According to one biography, "he played poker with other aspiring writers, but was considered a sour character who won all the time."
It's difficult to ascertain what Salinger is doing these days, as I figured it would be. He's been in retreat mode since the late 1960's. That's right around the time his work stopped appearing in public.

Here's the list of his publications, and then we'll look at what's happened since:

Briefly, here is an outline of some of the major events in his life aside from his books:

  • 1953 - bought a house in Cornish, NH and has lived there ever since
  • 1955 - married for the second time
  • 1967 - second marriage ended in divorce
  • 1972 - Joyce Maynard, public figure and long-time fan of Salinger, had an affair with him that lasted less than a year and then publicized it
  • 1974 - told a New York Times reporter that he still writes, but only for himself
  • 1980s - third marriage, to Colleen O'Neill
  • 1992 - his house in New Hampshire caught fire, and though reporters sought him out for interviews, he managed to duck them
  • 1997 - announced that a book called Hapworth 16, 1924 would soon be published. The book was actually to be a re-publication of a novella-length story he had published previously in the 1960s. However, publication was delayed two years and then was not released. It is likely that the book was withdrawn because its author preferred to avoid the publicity.

  • Born in 1919, J.D. Salinger will be 87 this year.
  • UPDATE: Today, January 28, 2010, Salinger died.  He was 91. 

The whole business of him aging shocked me.  He is, in my mind, always a little bit older than Holden.  The idea of Holden at 87 years old, or 91 years old seems impossible.
    (Photo from Synaesthesia Press)

    (Photo from Planet Video)

    See?  Isn't that transition startling?  Doesn't it seem kind of wrong?

    When I initially did this entry, I didn't have any pictures of Salinger himself because I figured he would have preferred it that way.  Talk about his books, not about him.

    Now that he's died, it seems imperative to accept the fact that he was a real person, not just a bodiless voice eternally telling stories, but a bona fide human being.  Not only is it possible for him to age, he's already done that and he's gone ahead and died, besides.

    Still.  It seems pretty unreal.

    Update, January 2010: Swedish author Frederik Colting has written what he calls a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger's estate has finally agreed to let him publish it, but he can't sell it in the U.S. or Canada. The publisher describes it as a "speculative psychological mystery."  Sounds pretty unpalatable. I don't think it'll bother me one bit that I won't be able to buy a copy.

    Pegasos, a Finnish literature site, J(erome) D(avid) Salinger, Biographical FAQ (apparently, this site gets hacked into a lot, so you may be unlucky if you try to view it)
    Wikipedia, J.D. Salinger
    Lacy Fosburgh, "J.D. Salinger Speaks About His Silence,"
    The New York Times, November 3, 1974
    Michiko Kakutani, "From Salinger, A New Dash of Mystery,"
    The New York Times, February 20, 1997
    Larissa MacFarquhar, "The Cult of Joyce Maynard,"
    The New York Times Magazine, September 6, 1998

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