I feel obliged to write something, to salute, acknowledge, remark upon the passing of the writer who I cherish above all others: JD Salinger. I was sitting in Les Schwab, waiting on a tyre change, trying not to smell the combination of rubber and free popcorn, when the news flashed up. Reclusive author dead at 91. The tears that sprang up were undoubtedly for me, not for him. Liquid selfishness.
I don’t remember what Salinger I read first. Not ‘Catcher in the Rye’ because my uptight religious school would never have assigned it. Was it ‘Franny & Zooey’? How would I have encountered it? My sister was my literary guide, but I gave her ‘Franny & Zooey’ when I was a teenager, so it didn’t come from her. Maybe my brother had a copy, or perhaps I stumbled on it at the library. What I do recall, very clearly, is the summer I was 15, living with my sister, working at Wendy’s. It was three months of sweating fry grease and repainting my nails every Friday, because we couldn’t wear nail varnish at work. There was a tiny staff room, the size of a cupboard, and ‘Franny & Zooey’ lived there. Every break I read it in furious, fifteen minute chunks. In the course of the summer I probably read it twenty times.
After that, ‘Franny & Zooey’ became my amulet. I carried the same copy, heavily underlined in pencil, through high school, on class trips, to university, on my study abroad sojourn; it joined me in moving from Oregon, to Philadelphia, to London, to Ibiza. Then, in the last six months, it’s gone missing. I have a horrible feeling it might have gotten lost in Mexico. So I borrowed a copy from the library to foist on my brother, who read it, and laughed uproariously. The library hardback lies next to me, but the rhythms of the language are under my skin. What marvellous language it is: “she was, from an undeniably hoyden point of view, a rather refreshing eyesore”; “why do I go? I go because I’m sick to death of waking up furious in the morning, and going to bed furious at night”; “we speak a kind of esoteric family language, a sort of semantic geometry in which the shortest distance between any two points is a fullish circle”; “the furniture — seemingly a small warehouse of it — was in its usual static-dynamic arrangement… [it] would have lent a snug aspect to a banqueting hall in Valhalla” and so on and on. My favourite line, perhaps? “It’s a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.”
Pure and complicated, like Salinger’s prose; like his life. Various reports leaked from behind the walls of his New Hampshire home suggested he wasn’t entirely pleasant, but who is? No-one is going to come out well as the subject of a memoirist with an axe to grind. I’m only curious if we’ll see his writing, have a chance to revel in more of his literary magic. Apart from that, I hope he preserves the same aloofness in death he sought in life. True artists live in their art.
You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of the work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to laziness, either.
— “Bhagavad Gita” [from ‘Franny & Zooey’]