There’s a lot to say, and a lot being said, on the recent death of author J.D. Salinger. I don’t have much to say other than same random thoughts, as I’ve always seen Catcher in the Rye as middling and didn’t really get what the fuss was about. A professor I had in undergrad said you had to read the book as a teenager first to get it; I didn’t read it until my 20s and he was right. But I can appreciate the influence the work has had since its publication and that it stands as one of the great works of American literature. As a writer, I would feel almost neglectful not making mention of Salinger in his death.
I like Joshua Ferris’s brief article appearing at the New Yorker site, here . He raises a good point: what books after Catcher have been, as Ferris puts it, “as galvanizing, controversial, wildly popular, and accomplished”? He mentions some reasonable titles that are close but don’t hit the mark. I’d maybe throw in Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, but I don’t think it’s required reading or even widely read. I’m not sure anything is close, though, really.
Salinger is probably the epitome of that cultural phenomenon of author as recluse, coming before even Thomas Pynchon. James Earl Jones played a version of him in the film Field of Dreams (his name changed, and based on details of Salinger’s life, a more palatable person). Probably every movie that’s had the writer as hermit can thank Salinger for its portrayal.
There has been some indication that Salinger left behind numerous unpublished works. Who knows what is there and if it’s anything but the sort of unfinished miscellanea that often surface after an author’s death. Hopefully, though, if there are any insane orders to destroy these works, someone plays Max Brod to Salinger’s Kafka and ignores them. I understand the writer’s need for privacy and for someone to have their last wishes fulfilled, but when you’ve reached the level of a J.D. Salinger, the world should not be denied seeing whatever writings are left.