J D Salinger Centenary Observed

Today is the centenary of the birth of US novelist J D Salinger. This is marked in a retrospective article by Martin Chilton in today’s issue of The Independent that opens with this:

The Manhattan-born author notoriously went into suburban seclusion in the town of Cornish, New Hampshire, soon after the publication of his best-selling 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Throughout the following years he would utter the plea “why can’t my life be my own?”. He also complained bitterly to close friends about the “damn people” who sent him invitations to social events.

“My father hated birthdays, holidays, and pretty much any planned or culturally mandated celebrations, and he’d certainly hate this centennial,” Matt Salinger, the 58-year-old actor who appeared in Revenge of the Nerds and Captain America, told the Associated Press recently. He was commenting after the announcement that the New York Public Library will open a major exhibition in October featuring “manuscripts, letters, books and artefacts from Salinger’s archive”. Little, Brown Book Group are also staging events across America next year to mark the anniversary of the author’s birth on 1 January 1919.

Perhaps consistent with Salinger’s own wishes, there doesn’t seem to be much else on offer relating to the occasion. In addition to the NYPL’s planned exhibit, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, has scheduled an evening event next Monday, and his publishers Little, Brown have reissued the four books published in Salinger’s lifetime in a uniform “centennial edition” of both individual volumes and a boxed set. There is so far no word of the publication of any of the writings he reportedly produced during his decades of seclusion, as described in the Independent article.

Another retrospective appeared last week in the Washington Post. This is by literary columnist Ron Charles and, after recognizing Catcher’s continuing popularity among teenagers, continues with this:

To read it again as an adult is to feel Holden’s pain lingering like a phantom limb. His righteous cynicism is adolescence distilled into a sweet liquor. But the novel also feels like revisiting your first house. The familiarity is enchanting but discombobulating. The story is smaller than you remember, and some details you had completely wrong. But what’s most striking is how common the novel’s tone has become over the intervening decades. Holden is Patient Zero for generations infected by his misanthropy. We live in a world overpopulated by privileged white guys who mistake their depression for existential wisdom, their narcissism for superior vision.

Evelyn Waugh seems not to have been aware of the Salinger mania which swept the USA in the late 1950s and 1960s. There is no record of Waugh’s ever having reviewed anything by Salinger or mentioned him in letters, diaries or journalism. Salinger’s years of attention-attracting seclusion may well have provided a ripe subject for Auberon Waugh’s satire, but I was unable to find any reference. Auberon may have deemed a reclusive resident of Vermont a bit off his beat. For his part, Salinger left no record in any published essays or correspondence of writers whose work may have influenced him, although Hemingway and Fitzgerald are mentioned by other commenters.

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