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J.D. Salinger Dies; Reclusive 'Catcher' Author

Adam Bernstein

The news flashed across the wire in an appropriately enigmatic style: "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger has died at age 91 in New Hampshire. No date of death, no cause of death, and it all came from a statement from the author's literary representative, quoting a surviving son.

Former staff writer Bart Barnes wrote our obit, which starts this way:
J.D. Salinger, 91, a celebrated author and enigmatic recluse whose 1951 novel, "The Catcher in the Rye," became an enduring anthem of adolescent angst and youthful rebellion and a classic of 20th-century American literature, has died.

To generations of men and women in the years after World War II, "The Catcher in the Rye," was the singular, tell-it-like-it-is story about the mind-set of a sensitive youth, cynical yet romantic; disdainful of hypocrisy, social convention and conformity; self-conscious, and uncomfortable in his own skin; confused and pathetic but also loveable.

The novel is about the adventures and misadventures of a disillusioned 16-year old who knows he is about to be expelled from his boarding school, Pencey Prep, and decides to run away instead. Over three-days in New York City, he has a run of weird encounters with taxi drivers, nuns, an elevator man, three girls from Seattle, a prostitute and a former teacher. In his eyes, the world is controlled and dominated by "phonies," whom he cannot abide, and he struggles with limited success to come to terms with love, sex and, ultimately, himself. In an encounter with his kid sister, Phoebe, he finds affection and salvation.

In the more than half-century since the novel's publication, its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, has joined the ranks of such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as a folk hero of American fiction, with near-universal name recognition.

It also could have made Mr. Salinger a national celebrity, but he detested the public spotlight and not long after the book appeared, withdrew to the hills of rural New Hampshire, where he lived in seclusion. He shunned contact with the media and the public, and filed lawsuits to block publication or quotes from his personal letters. He continued writing, but not since a short story appeared in the New Yorker in 1965, has any new writing of Mr. Salinger's been published. Earlier, the New Yorker had published J.D. Salinger short stories, but to the majority of the reading public he was known only as the author of "The Catcher in the Rye."

Throughout the 1950s and into the new millenium, "The Catcher in the Rye" had annual sales figures in the hundreds of thousands. Holden Caulfield became a teenage Everyman whose wry and caustic observations seemed to be outrageous, clever and on-the-mark. From the beginning, in its cadence and language, his speech gave the youthful protagonist air of authenticity and timelessness.

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

Sociologist David Riesman assigned the book at Harvard in his course on character and social structure in the United States, perhaps, said Time magazine in a 1961 cover story, "because every campus has its lonely crowd of imitation Holdens -- doomed wearers of raincoats-in-December, who rehearse faithfully their Caulfield hyperbole ('It was the last game of the year, and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn't win.')"

When "The Catcher in the Rye" appeared in summer 1951, William Maxwell, the author's friend and editor, reported in Book-of-the-Month-Club News that Mr. Salinger had worked on the novel for 10 years and at one point had withdrawn a 90-page version that had been accepted for publication because he felt the work was flawed.

The title is based on a line from the Scottish poet Robert Burns. In the story, a mistaken rendering of the line causes Holden Caulfield to imagine himself as a "catcher in the rye," responsible for keeping the children of the world from falling off "some crazy cliff."

Although he wrote for more than six decades, Mr. Salinger published no other full-length novel. His shorter fiction included "Nine Stories" (1953); "Franny and Zooey" (1961), which combined two stories; and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction" (1963), which essentially combined two novellas. Much of this work was published initially in the New Yorker magazine, as was his last story to be published, "Hapworth 16, 1924," which appeared in the New Yorker in 1965.

In 1953 Mr. Salinger moved to Cornish, N.H. where he lived in a hilltop cottage overlooking the Connecticut River, jealously guarding his privacy. "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing," he told the New York Times in a rare 1974 telephone interview. "Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."

Our full obituary will appear online presently, but tell us your thoughts on Salinger's life and work.

By Adam Bernstein  |  January 28, 2010; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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Holden spoke to an enormous population of people who didnt like the way things were but were incapable of changing them to the way they wanted---the girl whose tear fell on the checkerboard was downstairs and Holden was not brave enough to go talk to her...he was a terribly insecure boy who lost a little brother he loved...and never felt's a quick read, a book you can fly through in a couple of hours or so...many people who have read it talk about the book, and one thing we speak about is "Whatever happened to Holden?" A sequel was recently published in the UK because the writer knew people wanted the answer to that question....sadly that question was answered today...What happened to Holden Caufield when he got older? He lived as a recluse and today, 1/28/10...he died.

Posted by: scottakruh | January 28, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

i am sad, but curious. Is there any another great book among his private papers since the 60's???

I adore Holden and Catcher. I fell in love as a teeager who stumbled across the book by herself. Alas, no teacher or instructor or professor assigned me to "study" this work. Perhps that is why I love it so.


Posted by: rcallahan1 | January 28, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

This is from a wikipedia page on the cultural effect of Catcher In The Rye.

The most well-known event associated with The Catcher in the Rye is arguably Mark David Chapman's shooting of John Lennon.[14] Chapman identified with the novel's narrator to the extent that he wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield. On the night he shot Lennon, Chapman was found with a copy of the book in which he had written "This is my statement" and signed Holden's name.[15] Later, he read a passage from the novel to address the court during his sentencing.[16] Daniel Stashower speculated that Chapman had wanted Lennon's innocence to be preserved by death, inspired by Holden's wish to preserve children's innocence despite Holden's later realization that children should be left alone.[16]

After John Hinckley, Jr.'s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981, police found The Catcher in the Rye among half a dozen other books in his hotel room.[17]

Robert John Bardo, who murdered Rebecca Schaeffer, was carrying the book when he visited Schaeffer's apartment in Hollywood on July 18, 1989.[18]

As numerous murders have been speculated to be connected to the novel, the film Conspiracy Theory depicts assassins brainwashed with an urge to purchase it."

I think the book Catcher in The Rye can be a dangerous book in the wrong hands.
It is full of hate and anger and Holden says several times he would like to shoot people. The book is not the innocent adolescent book many think it is. It is extremely full of anger. Taken seriously the book can lead emotionally disturbed people to act out.

Posted by: joebstewart | January 28, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

joebstewart is right on...Catcher is sophomoric and full of anger; Holden is in a mental institution at the end of the book and that is where he belongs, as he shows no capacity to grow and develop. Unfortunately, that is not clear to many who read the book; he is their hero.

Richard Bradford's 'Red Sky at Morning' is a vastly superior coming-of-age novel, especially as the main character comes of age, unlike the one-dimensional Holden, who forever remains a dysfunctional adolescent.

Read Red Sky; don't watch the movie until you've read the book. You will laugh as the tears run down your cheeks...I guarantee it!

Posted by: LearnedHand3 | January 28, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Catcher in the Rye is a classic, as are Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories. I loved all of these growing up and am grateful to Mr. Salinger for sharing his gifts with the world. I completely disagree that Catcher provokes violence. There are many great coming of age books but nothing touches Catcher or even comes close.

If you really want something tame for your teens, check out Fires of Spring by James Michener, another great writer that lived into his nineties.

Posted by: johnk1000 | January 28, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Catcher in the Rye is perhaps the most vastly over-rated novel in American Literature. It is important in one particular way in that it is a harbinger of a youth culture that is evident in televsion and movies in particular that nothing that adults say or do has any value and that all adults are phonies, morons or perverts. Most of the students I have taught it to over the years begin with enormous excitement at the narrative voice and the situation--as I did myself--only to be worn down by the narrator's conspicuous lack of growth and whiny voice. What first is charming becomes tedious. There are numberless other better coming-of-age novels and stories that one might teach.

Posted by: dmcmahon1 | January 28, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

An overrated book, got a lot of recent decade spotlight from Chapman's promo, who was a CIA contracter provided with Japanese concubines in Pacific Fleet Hawaii to snuff out a major proponent for peace, WHERE'S THE OBIT FOR HOWARD ZINN??? who also died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, like George Carlin, connect subsets of contacts, EMS,docs, etc...chloral hydrate for most popular human for five metric blocks, who can trust..

Posted by: frak | January 28, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

fr dmcmahon1:

>Catcher in the Rye is perhaps the most vastly over-rated novel in American Literature...

So don't READ it. Simple as that. Millions obviously read AND enjoy it, as it is very well-written.

Posted by: Alex511 | January 28, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Catcher Is From Rober Burns Poem of Near Same Name. the Rose by Bette Midler Is amoung Classics' of Same Christmas Rose renewal. Burns died at 37, living twice Age of Men at Time & Reflection of Courage & Pain of Facing Falsely Governed Society Brings, Those Times Again, being 1940s':


Posted by: ThomasStewart1 | January 28, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

It's about being a sensitive male in an insensitive, alienated modern urban existence. The other stories by Salinger are along the same lines. The twentieth century alienated man from his planet - we devolved into some kind of stereotype no matter what we do or did. Caulfield, and other Salinger characters, were the voices in the darkness calling out the nonsense, much like the iconic rebels from every age. He spoke for us and we loved him for it.

Posted by: steven7753 | January 29, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

glad to see from the comments that i'm not alone in thinking 'catcher' is, to coin a phrase, a 'crumby' novel.

if you re-read it after high school, the predominant reaction is a strong desire to slap some sense into holden caulfield.

your pal,

Posted by: blakem | January 29, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I read "Catcher" and "Nine Stories" and "Franny and Zooey" so many years ago I have forgotten most of the details - but will never forget how much Salinger affected me. I found "Catcher" on my own, and sought out all the others.

Caulfield mentioned how bad one could wish, after reading a wonderful book, that one was friends with the author and could call him up whenever he wished - that doesn't happen very often, though. I felt the same way about Salinger. I yearned to meet him; I hungered for more of his stories or books. There was no internet - that was all I could find. Apparently, that was very nearly all that there was. Apparently there were no more of his stories to read and love. Sadness.

WIthout a book to be accurate, I am afraid to quote him exactly. But I still remember some lines, without their full context, almost exactly. They have never left me; they're a part of me.

As far as feeling the same way about Salinger himself, I yearned to meet him, too, but could find nothing on him - now I know why - until a newspaper article that quoted a woman who had lived with him, probably Joyce Maynard. He sounded inconsiderate and abusive. What I have read today does nothing to dispel that impression; it reinforces it. Sometimes a dream dies. My dream of meeting him did. And all the yearnings and feelings that went with it died too. More sadness.

Posted by: alakshak | January 29, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

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