Thursday, January 28, 2010

JD Salinger Dead at 91

Reclusive author and pop-culture in-joke, J.D. Salinger, passed-away at his home yesterday from natural causes. He was 91. Salinger published his magnum opus, The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951, and it skyrocketed him to instant legendary status. Unable to cope with fame and all its trappings, Salinger quit publishing and became hermit, living out the rest of his days in a small house in New Hampshire. His last published work appeared in The New Yorker in 1965.

Rumors about him continuing to work, but refusing to publish, surfaced and his name became synonymous with phrases like "reclusive genius" and "troubled artist." A neighbor once told the press Salinger had confided in him that he had written some 15 or more novels which remain unpublished, supposedly kept in a safe in his home. "I love to write and I assure you I write regularly, but I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it," Salinger told Louisiana-based The Advocate in an extremely rare 1980 interview .

Salinger did publish other works, many of which feature a family by the name of "Glass," and remained the critics' darling for years, despite everything he did to dissuade everyone from giving him any attention, whatsoever. Eventually, his behavior was derided by most of the public, yet Salinger himself remained a character of popular speculation. A character named "J.D. Salinger" appeared in the film, Field of Dreams.

In 1980, a troubled man touted the book as his sole reason for shooting and killing John Lennon. "This extraordinary book holds many answers," Mark Chapman is famously quoted. Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, held the media to an embargo on printing Chapman's name in articles about Lennon and his death in an attempt to dissuade similar incidents; Ono did not want Chapman to become famous for his crime.

Rye is also cited as the driving influence behind the cinematic rise of the antihero in the years immediately following it - an influence which is said to continue to this day. The protagonists of such films as Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate, and even John Hughes' The Breakfast Club are said to owe their everything to Holden Caulfield.

While The Catcher in the Rye remains on the "suggested reading" lists of many American highschools, it was a divisive and controversial subject for decades. It was "required" reading in some schools and banned from the curriculum, and even libraries, of others. Many feared misguided students would, like Chapman, be influenced by Caulfield.

Jerome David Salinger was born in 1919, served in the Army, and published his first story in 1940. Though J.D. Salinger sued several times to keep biographies of him to a minimum, details of the author eventually came to light as those who had associated with him, including his daughter, penned their own books and gave interviews in which they discussed him. Despite his best efforts - or perhaps because of them - Salinger was painted as an egotistical eccentric who was not very loving to his children.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010
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