Post to the Host

Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

Send GK Your Question »

J.D. Salinger, 1919 - 2010

January 29, 2010 | 14 Comments

GK was quoted in the January 29th edition of USA TODAY about J.D. Salinger's legacy. Only one quote — the first one here — made it to the final version, but we saved them all. Feel free to post your own thoughts, about Mr. Salinger, his books, phonies, or any of his characters, in the comments below.

"[Salinger was] the great author of my teenage years. He was one of those authors you felt intimately friends with and wished you could call him up on the phone and talk, which is why, I suppose, he spent all those years in New Hampshire not taking phone calls. There must have been millions of young people who wanted to talk to him."

"If you wanted to be cool you talked to the cool kids who told you to read Catcher in the Rye. Teachers didn't. The cool kids did. It was a grassroots literary movement."

"You wanted to be friends with Holden Caulfield You wanted to rescue him and take him home."


It's ironic that the attitude of teachers toward Catcher in the Rye has changed so much that it is now taught in many high schools. Because of this, kids think of it as required reading, and anything but "cool." Nothing ruins the appeal of a book more completely than having an adult tell you that you have to read it (and write an essay on it by next week).

Holden Caufield made an enormous impression on my life. I empathized with the the way he expressed his ideas of the world-so curiously strange and funny. We became friends in an instant.

When I really think about it, I married Holden Caufield and it was OK, really.

Not only Holden, but Franny.
That pre-game lunch & little cloth-bound book.
More great images, great writing!

Not only Franny, but Buddy and Seymour Glass and all the rest. Thinking about all of the work it seems like Catcher is the anomoly rather than the opus.

Sadly it is complete now, unless he pulled a Wyeth and there is a hidden trove of work in the attic. But that wouldn't be very Salinger would it?

It was required reading for my freshman English class at Gustavus Adolphus the fall of 1959. I had trouble getting through it, and thought it just left you hanging with no satisfactory ending. I did not identify with any of the characters. I loved to read (still do) and have enjoyed many of the classics. However, this book, as well as "The Great Gatsby," "The Yearling" and "Old Man and the Sea" did not impress me. I couldn't get all the way through them - the only reason I read all the way through "Catcher" is that it was required reading. I have recently discovered Elizabeth George and am reading her mysteries. Also, I have read all of Lillian Jackson Braun's "The Cat Who-" mysteries. Don't know what that says of me.

We obediently let a smile be our umbrella, but beneath it was our Holden Caufield malaise. Salinger taught us to bring it out. It became collective malaise, not just personal, and not all our own fault. Inevitably we turned political. Widespread disaffection was the specific premise of the Port Huron Declaration. I'm grateful to Salinger.

When I was returning to the US from a week at Aruba and Bonaire, the news was J D Salinger had died. This morning I read pieces about him in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik and Lillian Ross, as well as an author I am not familiar with, John Seabrook.

My most favorite scene in a book is the opening of “Zooey.” Zooey Glass lies in the bathtub smoking. He has been there for hours, comfortably which I never could have been. I loved that he smoked while bathing – it was part of the excess of his life that I envied, a true decadence which I was not able to indulge in. Better yet, this was a character in a short story – for me the fiction more true than truth. I so wanted to be Zooey, capable of enjoying a bath for hours and smart enough to know how to smoke and not get the cigarette too wet that it smoked out and fell apart.

My first and best boyfriend told me to read Catcher in the Rye, I was nearly 15. I took every word to heart and he of course was Holden. Only 3 or 4 other moments in my adolescence meet me daily in remembrance as certain as my understanding of everything Holden and that boyfriend meant.

Reading tributes (the wholly wrong word) about J D Salinger, by those who knew him makes me also at peace that the book he wrote was the one I read. And all the stories afterward from Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, Nine Stories were written in the world in which I lived, or wanted to live.

There is no difference in the things that matter in the girl that read those stories 45 years ago and the woman who writes today. Except today she still must go out to the world of phonies and measure up to marks that still look like those awful impositions Holden battled.

Yet in moments with those true friends, those understanding of Emerson, all is as comfortable as Zooey in his bathtub, and no one cares if ashes float on the surface of the world made in my image, where I am still 14, believing my boyfriend will actually come get me one day and we will sail around the Bahamas in a banana boat; where everyone is as smart and flippant as Zooey and Holden and Seymour.

I went to a private school of secondary education in the 1980's and I was forced to read Catcher in the Rye which I found tedious because I couldn't understand the point of the book. Recently I tried to read the book again but couldn't manage to finish it which is ironic because I like reading classic works of fiction. Is there something I am missing? Should focus on a meaning or an image while reading this book? I do not know what the answer to these questions are but I would like to be able to go back and read the story again and see if I can't gather some meaning about the book.

Suggest that those who couldn't get into Catcher in the Rye, didn't understand its appeal, etc., are/were teenagers who were content and comfortable with their lives as teenagers; whereas, those who did understand it and felt it spoke to them in highly personal ways as adolescents, were not particularly comfortable with their world, and were bothered by the degree to which hypocrisy and arbitrariness characterized much of conventional adult society.

Holden Caulfield made me feel better when I was a teenager and hadn't yet a date for a party that was written up in the social section of our
evenimg newspaper, the Nashville Banner - I listed as my date "Holden Caulfield" and that is what was printed. The society editor didn't know the difference, and I felt extremely smart and of course, cool!

I wanted to be Holden Caufield. I wanted hold Franny Glass, recite the Jesus prayer, and tell her everything would be OK. I grieved for Allie Caulfield and Seymour and Walt Glass. I've read Catcher at least 15 times and I've come to realize that changes in my view of Holden are benchmarks of my pitifully slow progress toward maturity. After my first reading of Catcher when I was 12 I tried to find a deerstalker cap but I wasn't sure what a deerstalker cap was. I'm pretty sure one didn't exist in York, PA in 1959. In 1966 I went drinking with Robert Ackley's daughter. It seems Salinger delighted in naming undesirable characters after his friends as a joke, and the Robert Ackley character with the annoying habits and mossy teeth was named after a friend of Salinger's at Valley Forge Military Acadamy, which was the model for Pencey Prep. The real Ackley's daughter attended the same college I did in Erie, PA around 1965 - 1967 and we went out drinking a few times. Years ago I would check the telephone directories in cities I visited to see if they had listings for Holden Caulfield or Seymour Glass. Sure enough, both were listed in the Manhattan directory for a few years in the late '80s. They've since disappeared. I always wondered if these were real people, or names entered by Salinger's fans or possibly Salinger himself.

I don't care for it much now, but in 1968 when I was 17, it knocked me on my butt and made me break out into a sweat. Thousands of books later, no book has come close to doing that to me.

When my daughter was hovering on the brink of adolesence, and the toys of her childhood sat silently on the shelves lining her room, she told me how sad it made her that nothing at all had replaced them. What was she supposed to do now? It was then that I introduced her to "Catcher in the Rye." She read it, and I heard her chuckling as she read, other times, very quiet. When she was done, she asked for another book. Reading took the place of the hours spent with Barbi. J.D. Salinger. Hat's off, and thank you.

Previous Post:
« Be Well...

Next Post:
GK Responds to Cinecast Posts »

Post to the Host Archive

Complete Post to the Host Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy