Forgetting J.D. Salinger

The media is filled today with stories about the impact that J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye made on impressionable [mostly] young readers. For example, the co-hosts of NBC's Today Show shared their recollections of how the book affected them, with Matt Laurer stating that he remembered being proud that Catcher was his first "real book."

I must be one of the few people in America who don't have a similar story to share. I'm pretty sure I've read the book and I think we still have a copy somewhere in our home library, but frankly, it made absolutely no lasting impact on me. I can't recall a single detail from Catcher other than the name of the lead character, Holden Caufield. And all this talk about the author and the book has stimulated no desire whatsoever to find the book and [re]read it.

A friend recently tagged me via Facebook for the "15 Books That Affected Me" meme. While I didn't respond (Sorry, Joe; nothing personal, but I don't do Facebook memes. I don't do much of anything Facebook, but that's another story.), I did spend about thirty seconds thinking about it, and in light of today's Catcher lovefest, it seems appropriate to list at least a few books from my youth that did stay with me.

I was a big fan of science fiction as a kid, and while that ardor has cooled somewhat over the years, the books I remember most tend to come from that genre. Robert Heinlein's New Agey (the term hadn't been invented at that time, AFAIK) Stranger in a Strange Land made an impact on me, as did Harlan Ellison's short story collection, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. And, of course, the list wouldn't be complete without Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and its prequel, The Hobbit. (And in the interests of complete transparency, there was that one summer when a copy of J. D. Southern's scandalous novel Candy circulated between beach towels at the Fort Stockton public swimming pool, the "best" passages easily found by their dogeared pages.)

I wish I could point to more intellectually sophisticated reading material - and my reading habits really were more varied than they may seem - but there it is. Salinger and Catcher may have shaped a generation, but I never got on that particular bus.


The book Holden Caulfield was reading when he tried to commit suicide (sorry to give away the end, Eric) was "Out of Africa," by Isak Dinesen. That hooked me. I mean ... why did Salinger put "Out of Africa" in his hero's hand/mind at just that moment? So, I had to read the book to see if I could figger out same. (IMHO, "Out of Africa" ... the book, not the movie ... is the best "best left unsaid / between the lines" love story I've ever read.) I did a similar thing with "Brideshead Revisited" ... i.e., read a referenced book. In one of the thesis scenes of "Brideshead" ... the one where Cordelia harks back to Lady Marchmain's reading of a drawing room passage ... Cordelia attributes to G.K. Chesterton's "The Wisdom of Father Brown" a quote about Christianity, i.e., "It's an invisible line that's long enough to reach to the ends of the Earth. And, all it takes is a twitch upon the thread to bring (the sinner) home (to the church)." Well. I read that "book reference within a book" citation and then had to read "The Wisdom of Father Brown," by G.K. Chesterton ... I mean ... just to be able to put Waugh's citation of Chesterton in context. What'd I discover? It's not there ... the quote about the invisible line and the twitch upon the thread. It's not in "The Wisdom of Father Brown." For decades, I wondered ... what'd Waugh do, here? Was he mistaken? Did he intentionally attribute a quote to Chesterton that he made up himself? Later ... in the blessed Google age of the internet ... I pecked in the quote and discovered the true source of the quote. I like to do that ... "deep read" an author's citations to get a better sense of the author's mind. With regard to Holden Caulfield reading "Out of Africa" at the time he (sorry, Eric) tries to commit suicide ... I *still* don't know why Salinger put that book in the hero's hands. Here's my theory: "Out of Africa's" a good escape story. Maybe, old Holden was enjoying a good escape story. He'd do that.

Pitch perfect obit of Salinger is over on Onion:

OK, I put it on my Amazon wishlist. This *better* be good.

My youthful reading experience was mostly influenced by what my older brother left behind when he went to college. Of course, he told me to "stay out of his room" and of course, I did not.

Instead of Catcher, I read "Youngblood Hawke" and "Cat Ballou". Ian Fleming's Bond books featured prominently also. But the best were the few tattered issues of Playboy found underneath his mattress. There was some great fiction in there in the early to mid '60s.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Eric published on January 29, 2010 9:23 AM.

Weekend in San Diego was the previous entry in this blog.

Snow Foot Car is the next entry in this blog.

Archives Index