I have never written about my obsession for J.D. Salinger. I mean, who am I but one of his many readers? I feel like I don’t know anything truly real about Salinger despite having read all his books, interviews and his children’s accounts. It would seem that his efforts to hide his own story have succeeded. I became completely absorbed by Salinger’s literary cosmos many years ago and ever since I’ve been spending hours upon hours trying to find out more about his hidden life and about all the theories that surround his biography.
After reading his books in Romanian, I started rereading them in English, reactivating my passion for the intriguing and mystical behaviour of one of the greatest writers in the world.
The first novel I started my English Salinger marathon with was the famous Catcher in the Rye, the novel whose success overwhelmed him and convinced him to hide from the eyes of the world, refusing public appearances, interviews or any other public invitation. The novel became increasingly controversial especially when Mark David Chapman was carrying a copy of it when he was arrested for killing John Lennon and he told police that “this extraordinary book” would help people to understand why he had shot the former Beatle. He cited the novel as “his statement”. Furthermore, The Catcher in the Rye was also found in John Hinckley’s hotel room after he was arrested for attempting to assassinate President Reagan.
I have rediscovered this relatable character, Holden Caulfield, and now I understand why people keep saying that this character is similar to the writer: a young man who is not able to find his place in the word and does not accept to make any compromise to please people. Caulfield is a sum of contrasts: “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.”
Salinger did not like the fame that came with a hit bestseller, so he left the city to live in a secluded 90-acre rural compound in Cornish, New Hampshire. Exactly what Caulfield did in the novel: always leaving places. This book, widely read, is a statement and a symbol for its themes of angst and alienation, and it is also a powerful critique on superficiality in society. Brilliant in so many ways, it is a metaphor for the loss of innocence as a form of self-protection. It reminded me of one of the author’s few interviews in which he said that “I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man, but all I’m doing is trying to protect myself and my work.”
Salinger struggled with unwanted attention and complained bitterly to close friends about the “damn people” who sent him invitations to social events and stopped publishing in 1965. His disappearance made him even more of an object of fascination than he had been before. He died in 2010 at 91, following nearly 50 years of public silence. As his own son, Matt, said, Salinger never stopped writing, so fans all over the world are anxiously waiting for the hidden manuscripts to be published. There, somewhere, lie manuscripts written over the course of 50 years. Can you imagine such a thing? Asked in an interview by The Guardian about how long the publishing will take, Matt replied: “We’re definitely talking years, though, I hope, fewer than 10.”
Much of his father’s unpublished work was written by hand so now Matt Salinger faced a dilemma. Should he rely on software to scan the manuscripts and converts them into digital files or type the whole thing into a computer himself, page by page? He chose the latter. I only hope that I will live the moment when these manuscripts will be published.
Coming back to the book (that’s always the problem when talking about a Salinger book – I am tempted to shift my attention to his private life, which was his big interdiction from the start), I have found this amazing quote, perhaps one of the deepest and most moving quotes from my reading collection: “I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”
It simply makes you strongly desire this superpower of being the catcher in the rye – doing nothing but catching everybody from falling off the crazy cliff.
I am excited about rediscovering Salinger. With every re-reading, his writing always reveals new meanings and ways of seeing life. And, if you ask me, this is the very definition of a brilliant author.
- “I know. I’m very hard to talk to. I realize that.”
- “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
- “But I’m Crazy. I swear to God I am.”
- “Make sure you marry someone who laughs at the same things you do.”
- “I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.”
- “I don’t even know what I was running for—I guess I just felt like it.”
- “People are always ruining things for you.”
- “when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose.”
- “People never notice anything.”
- “People always clap for the wrong reasons.”
- “I am always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”
- “I think that one of these days…you’re going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you’ve got to start going there. But immediately. You can’t afford to lose a minute. Not you.”
- “This fall I think you’re riding for—it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind. The man falling isn’t permitted to feel or hear himself hit bottom. He just keeps falling and falling. The whole arrangement’s designed for men who, at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with. Or they thought their own environment couldn’t supply them with. So they gave up looking. They gave it up before they ever really even got started.”
- “Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”
- “The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. . . . Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.”
- “That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.”
- “When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”