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Emerson was a touchstone, and Salinger often quoted him in letters. For instance, “A man must have aunts and cousins, must buy carrots and turnips, must have barn and woodshed, must go to market and to the blacksmith’s shop, must saunter and sleep and be inferior and silly.” Writers, he thought, had trouble abiding by that, and he referred to Flaubert and Kafka as “two other born non-buyers of carrots and turnips.”
Over the years, Salinger told me about working “long and crazy hours” at his writing and trying to stay away from everything that was written about him. He didn’t care about reviews, he said, but “the side effects” bothered him. “There are no writers anymore,” he said once. “Only book-selling louts and big mouths.”
Adam Gopnik on how JD Salinger was a writer and not just a myth:
In American writing, there are three perfect books, which seem to speak to every reader and condition: “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” Of the three, only “Catcher” defines an entire region of human experience: it is—in French and Dutch as much as in English—the handbook of the adolescent heart. But the Glass family saga that followed is the larger accomplishment. Salinger’s retreat into that family had its unreality—no family of Jewish intellectual children actually spoke quite like this, or revered one of the members quite so uncritically—but its central concern is universal. The golden thread that runs through it is the question of Seymour’s suicide, so shockingly rendered in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” How, amid so much joyful experience, could life become so intolerable to the one figure who seems to be its master?
Critics fretted about the growing self-enclosure of Salinger’s work, about a faith in his characters’ importance that sometimes seemed to make a religion of them. But the isolation of his later decades should not be allowed to obscure his essential gift for joy. The message of his writing was always the same: that, amid the malice and falseness of social life, redemption rises from clear speech and childlike enchantment, from all the forms of unself-conscious innocence that still surround us (with the hovering unease that one might mistake emptiness for innocence, as Seymour seems to have done with his Muriel). It resides in the particular things that he delighted to record....
After his experience with My Foolish Heart, JD Salinger seems to have decided resolutely to refuse to let his stories be adapted into films ("Those movies, they kill you, they really do"), and in this letter written in 1957 in response to an enquiry from a Mr. Herbert, Salinger explains why he would never sell the stage and screen rights to the Catcher in the Rye in this letter that is up for auction here:
R. D. 2
July 19, 1957
Dear Mr. Herbert,
I'll try to tell you what my attitude is to the stage and screen rights of The Catcher in the Rye. I've sung this tune quite a few times, so if my heart doesn't seem to be in it, try to be tolerant....Firstly, it is possible that one day the rights will be sold. Since there's an ever-looming possibility that I won't die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won't have to see the results of the transaction. I keep saying this and nobody seems to agree, but The Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel. There are readymade "scenes" - only a fool would deny that - but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator's voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons - in a word, his thoughts. He can't legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique. True, if the separation is forcibly made, there is enough material left over for something called an Exciting (or maybe just Interesting) Evening in the Theater. But I find that idea if not odious, at least odious enough to keep me from selling the rights. There are many of his thoughts, of course, that could be labored into dialogue - or into some sort of stream-of-consciousness loud-speaker device - but labored is exactly the right word. What he thinks and does so naturally in his solitude in the novel, on the stage could at best only be pseudo-simulated, if there is such a word (and I hope not). Not to mention, God help us all, the immeasurably risky business of using actors. Have you ever seen a child actress sitting crosslegged on a bed and looking right? I'm sure not. And Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn't nearly be enough. It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don't think any director can tell him.
I'll stop there. I'm afraid I can only tell you, to end with, that I feel very firm about all this, if you haven't already guessed.
Thank you, though, for your friendly and highly readable letter. My mail from producers has mostly been hell.
(Signed, 'J. D. Salinger')
(via: Letters of Note)
In another letter, to an 'angst-ridden' first-year college student who asked for writing advice, he says:
Dear Mr. Stevens,
I must tell you first, offputtingly or no, that I am at best a one-shot letter writer, these days. Along with that, I really never have anything to say when I'm done writing fiction at the end of a day. One thought, and one only, hits me about your letter. Entirely 'materialistic,' I'm afraid. You need a new typewriter ribbon. Get one or don't get one, but unless you make an effort to deal with things as unabstractly as that, you're stewing quite unnecessarily. You've decided that Things are what matter to people. Of course. Not only with 'people' but with you, too. Everything in your letter is a thing, concrete or abstract. Avidya and vidya are things. For me, before anything else, you're a young man who needs a new typewriter ribbon. See that fact, and don't attach more significance to it than it deserves, and then get on with the rest of the day. Good wishes to you. JDS."
(via Letters of Note)
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's." -- Franny and Zooey
Jerome David Salinger, the celebrated author of Catcher in the Rye, and the creator of the Glass family, who had been living as a virtual recluse at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire since 1953 died Wednesday, January 27.
Mr. Salinger’s literary representative, Phyllis Westberg of Harold Ober Associates, announced the death, saying it was of natural causes. She said he passed away peacefully at his home in New Hampshire on Wednesday
“Despite having broken his hip in May his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year. He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.
“In keeping with his lifelong, uncompromising desire to protect and defend his privacy, there will be no service, and the family asks that people’s respect for him, his work and his privacy be extended to them, individually and collectively, during this time.
“Salinger had remarked that he was in this world but not of it. His body is gone but the family hopes that he is still with those he loves, whether they are religious or historical figures, personal friends or fictional characters.”
From the Outlook archives:
Read, the obits at
Out of the 22, as many as 15 are now legitimately in public domain:
And two at Esquire
JDS, RIP: "Please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((( ))))"
Post Script: Some of the tweets, for the record, as they have some useful links:
That JD Salinger, author of Catcher In The Rye, has taken recourse to the law to try to block the publication of an unauthorised sequel, 60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye , written by someone calling himself John David California, on the grounds that it infringes his copyright, and is suing for damages from its author and publishers shouldn't really surprise anyone.
Least of all the author who is now feigning outrage and calling it “a little bit insane".
"Maybe he will get upset, but I'm hoping he will be pleased," California was quoted as having told the Guardian on May 14. "I'm not trying to lure him out of hiding – maybe he wants his privacy [but] it would be fun for me to hear what he thinks about this, and if he's pleased with the way I've portrayed Holden Caulfield and his future." Yeah, right.
Hopefully, it is now clear to JD California what JDS thinks about all phonies.