In memoriam: J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010
J.D. Salinger, author of the classic Catcher in the Rye, has died of natural causes in his home. Salinger was also the author of the great story collections Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, always instantly recognizable (and, to this lover of his books, heart-warming) in those beautiful, simple Little Brown editions (pictured below).
I won't waste your time explaining his literary legacy; you know it already. You read Catcher in the Rye in high school—or should have—probably fell in love with it, and watched as all those Herman Hesse novels you thought were so wonderful faded to a pale in comparison. It's precisely because of the impact that singular book had that people have become so fascinated by Salinger's reclusiveness. Really, it's not strange at all that a writer would wish to be left alone, or would at least prefer the company of his familiar home and small town than, say, the odd New York Times Magazine profiler. There are plenty of writers who sit at home by themselves every day. They just didn't write one of the definitive American novels.
Salinger's famous solitude actually doesn't strike me as strange or fascinating anymore. It makes sense. If you write a series of books that enter the pantheon, you've earned your right to leave it at that. Restraint is as worthy a characteristic of an artist as any other, and Salinger may have been the most restrained of the American masters. A lot of the obits arriving today recycle the old tale from Salinger's neighbor, Jerry Burt, that he'd written another 15 novels but had locked them away in a vault. Am I curious to read them? Of course. But I'm inclined to say let's keep them there. The whole The Original of Laura debacle taught us more about the invasive nature of fandom than it did about the work of Nabokov.
Salinger decided these 15 novels were not up to his standard, for whatever reason. And frankly, I'm inclined to believe one of the best writers of the 20th century over, say, anyone else. Let's let him rest in peace.