Thursday, January 28, 2010

"goodnight cruel world, my indifferent friend"

Certainly you are aware of the passing away of one of literature’s greats, J.D. Salinger. A recluse for most of his adult life, he finally gave up the ghost at the age of 91. Watch for the floodgates to open as piles of notebooks full of his writing are certain to surface now that he’s not around to keep them under lock and key. Perhaps we should respect his wishes for complete, albeit extreme, privacy, but alas capitalism and curiosity will combine forces, and nothing will remain sacred.

However, I can’t say that I blame the nosey. When I find something that moves me, I want to know all there is to know. And Salinger’s words move me.

I’ll be honest. I’ve only read “The Catcher in the Rye,” but Holden’s story left a profound impression on me, and to this day I consider the weekend in which I read those 277 pages for the first time to be a pivotal moment in my life. If you want to know more, I can tell you all about it sometime. In person.

I realize I’m not alone in my fascination and appreciation of Salinger’s work. Millions have read his words and were transformed. Millions more will read his words and will likewise be transformed. I wonder what has triggered this transformation for others, and what will trigger it for those in the future. Undoubtedly it’s a bit ironical (as Holden would say) that one of the things that draws us to the work of Salinger is our feeling of being out of place, like we just weren’t meant for these times or this world, that we are perpetually surrounded by phonies, and we just want to be left alone for once. Yet, how can thousands or millions of people be feeling this same way at the same time. Shouldn’t we be able to recognize this in each other and then stop and do something to remedy this sentiment?

Do you want to know something else ironical or coincidental or whatever you want to call it? I finished reading “The Catcher in the Rye” for the third time on the same day that Salinger died. Maybe even the same moment. I’m not saying there is any supernatural connection there or anything, I’m just stating the facts. The third time’s the charm, right? Perhaps there’s some truth to that statement.

Here’s the thing though, while I could still relate to Holden and all his hang-ups this time through, I found his cynicism to be a bit of a turn off. I still understood why he had such a bad attitude, and I continue to applaud his balls, his boldness, and his rebellious heart, but I can now see why letting go of some of that bitterness could be good for one’s mental health, and I appreciated his acquiescence in the penultimate chapter when to appease his younger sister he decided not to run away from his family. In my mind, Holden was growing up, just like me. The difference is, it took me reading the book three times over the course of a decade to smarten up. It took Holden a weekend.

I wonder if J.D. Salinger never learned that lesson. I wonder if maybe that’s why he remained in hiding for so long. I wonder if he was happy at all. Did cynicism finally kill him? Or was he above it all? Was he really in this world but not of it, or is that just some lousy cop out? I guess that’s not for me to decide. Either way, his spirit will live on in his published works, and like it or not, more of his spirit will surely trickle out as moneyed interests and curious hearts and minds demand it. I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind browsing through his notebooks, with all due respect.

J.D. Salinger, may you rest in peace.

“So, goodnight cruel world
I will see you tomorrow
I will follow my heart
You will cause me no sorrow.”
-Kepi Ghoulie


Maaike said...

You're awesome!

Mindy said...

I have yet to read catcher in the rye. I need to- its on my list, on my self, but I haven't yet begun it. Maybe that should go on my to do list for this short february...

Laura-Marie said...

You should read Franny and Zooey as well as Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction. They are so, so good. Come to think of it, I should read them again. Let me know if you would like to read them together.