Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010. R.I.P.

Author J.D. Salinger died yesterday in his home in Cornish, New Hampshire of natural causes. He was 91.

Salinger's best known literary work was the 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye. Yet Salinger would become better known for his reclusiveness. His last published work was in 1965 when The New Yorker published a short story titled Hapworth 16, 1924. Salinger evidently continued to write but simply opted not to have anything published according to his daughter Margaret who in 1999 published Dream Catcher, an account of her life growing up with her famous father. It will be interesting to see if Salinger's widow authorizes the publication of any of these manuscripts or if she will preserve the Salinger mystique.

But when I think of Salinger I think of Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon almost 30 years ago. I know it's not fair to Salinger. He wasn't responsible for Chapman's actions. Nonetheless, Chapman was obsessed with Catcher in the Rye and acted out many of Holden Caulfield's encounters as a prelude to killing Lennon. After he had killed Lennon, instead of fleeing the scene, Chapman read Catcher in the Rye while waiting for police to arrive. How macabre. But books don't kill people - people kill people.

Postscript #1: Salinger is my roommate Christopher's favorite writer.

Postscript #2: Remember the movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones? If you do you will recall that Jones played a reclusive writer named Terence Mann who is kidnapped by Ray (played by Costner.) The movie was adapted from the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe. In the book, it is Salinger who is kidnapped by Ray and taken to a Red Sox game. Salinger did not want to be depicted in the film. So Phil Alden Robinson, who adapted the screenplay, created Terence Mann. But I don't care if you are J.D. Salinger or James Earl Jones. Why would you have force anyone to go to a Red Sox game? Believe me when I tell you there are a lot of people who would love to be kidnapped and held hostage at Fenway Park.

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