My response to J.D. Salinger’s Death:
I was once asked by a sentimental friend what the perfect gift would be at the perfect birthday celebration. My response, after little deliberation: all of J.D. Salinger’s unpublished writings bundled up, neatly bound, just for me. It’s been many years since Salinger published any work, and as you probably know, he has been a recluse in Cornish, N.H. until he passed away four days ago.
The man hasn’t caused me any life altering impulses, nor do I feel compelled to assassinate anyone. I rarely even grasp confidently what the many themes and purposes of Salinger’s stories are. I can’t say Holden Caulfield helped me to fall in love with literature. So what is it about this writer? Why am I in love with his work?
I picked up The Catcher in the Rye when I was nineteen. I guess Christian high schools aren’t as inclined to promote literature where the protagonist’s favorite phrase is goddam. So it makes sense that I wasn’t introduced to the man. A couple of months later I found time to pick up Franny and Zooey. It was in a time of life where seasons began to shape reality. And The Glass family found me in Autumn, and that’s where I’ve stayed. From there I read the rest of his published work. Something in the normalcy of his stories causes me to think about time pulling all of life forward. When I read Salinger, I’m inspired, and it’s not just because he writes highly of Christ, but it’s entirely because he thinks so highly of him.
And not that I have the man figured out; I could be wrong. Was he full of ego or extremely humble? How would a hermit respond if journalists and fanatical folks constantly interrupted his solitude off in the mountains of Greece or Russia? He could be so selfish as to lock himself away, to “commit suicide”, at the overwhelming nature of reality; or he could be a saint. Salinger is an artist of details. The nuances of conversation help to create depth and personality. His diverse characters draw the reader into their lives, captured by an insight into young folks beyond most noteworthy writers. I feel as if I know the characters, and they exist. I hope to one day meet them.
For me, I will continue to read and reread Salinger’s stories. I will be inspired by his characters and their search for truth. I will live in this world and seek out authenticity, trying not to be a phony. I will pass on his stories to others and hope their effects are the same, that people will find a reason to read, a reason to live because of his creativity, that friends will receive him, journey with him, share him aloud in cars, on planes, in homes with their lovers and brothers and daughters.
J.D. Salinger is just like one of us. He struggled with purpose and reason. I mean, he tried to write for the Fat Lady, but rarely is that easy. He had to try to write for the Fat Lady, didn’t he? For wherever we are in life, whatever we do, whether we are tying shoes or singing songs, may we remember the Fat Lady and be. Just be.