My Hero, J.D. Salinger


I was whisked back to my teenage years as I watched a documentary on J.D. Salinger on “American Masters”, PBS January 21st. The film was made by Shane Salerno, who released the theatrical version to the public in September. I was both inspired as a writer and warmed in my heart when I learned that many people idolized Holden Caulfield as a character and J.D. Salinger as a writer, as I did.

All my feelings of angst and disapproval from my peers came rushing back to me as I remembered reading “Catcher in the Rye,” which I consider a classic. It describes teenage alienation perfectly. Didn’t we all wonder who we really were as teenagers and who we were going to become? I know my sense of self was quite elusive, parts of me floating around wondering who we were. Of course having multiple personalities did not help.

I felt that the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, was like me in many ways, especially because I attended a private girl’s school in Pennsylvania. Not only did Holden lack confidence in himself, but he also thought many other people were ‘phonies.’ I felt exactly the same way during my teenage years. It seems like teenagers can be smart and stupid at the same time, myself included.

There is some controversy that “Catcher in the Rye” was responsible for several murders. According to a blog by the atomicpoet, the only killer obsessed by Catcher was Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon and then stood by reading the book until police came on the scene. Chapman was supposedly a Christian who took offense to Lennon’s atheism….and saw him as a phony. Chapman hoped to save children from Lennon’s godless ways.” John Hinckley tried to kill Reagan, and a copy of Catcher was later found in his room. It can hardly be said that Hinckley idolized the book.

Thank goodness I did not kill anyone. I just read the book, loved it and identified totally with Holden Caulfield. I also saw the movie, Finding Forester starring Sean Connery as a former best-selling writer who is now a recluse living in Brooklyn. It seemed to mirror Salinger’s life in many ways.

Mr. Salinger had a concrete building on his property called ‘the bunker,” where he escaped to write every single day. I don’t think he had a window or a telephone in the small building. I get the idea he wanted to be alone. I also read that he had a penchant for taking a week to craft a single sentence. That definitely strikes a chord in my heart. I’ve worked long and hard on a few of my own.

Another interesting detail about Salinger is that when he was deployed in WWII to Europe he took the first six chapters of “Catcher” with him, and worked on them during his downtime. During the time of his combat he served in the concentration camps, and was deeply affected by what he saw there, later suffering from a nervous breakdown.

The best surprise from the PBS Show is that upon Salinger’s death in 2010, he left instructions in his will for publication of several major works that were written during his lifetime but never published. One of the books is “The Complete Chronicle of the Glass Family,” an extremely long book featuring one of Salinger’s characters, Seymour Glass, about a family with six children who are all geniuses. Other books that will be published are “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” and “A Counterintelligence Agent’s Diary” and “A World War II Love Story”. The books are to be published between 2015 and 2020.

For more info on the killer controversy go to atomicpoet.wordpress.com/2012/01/31

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