If I had to choose my favorite novel of all time, it would be Catcher in the Rye. Learning about the passing of J.D. Salinger’s passing last week, marked the end of a personal and societal era. It was consoling to know that he died peacefully in his home in New Hampshire at the age of 91, after what have been fifty reclusive years.
I always wondered what makes an author become a recluse. Or anyone for that matter. Are they trying to escape the attention of fans or are they just antisocial characters? Perhaps they are a combination of the two. If we look at literary history, we observe that many creative people do indeed seek solitude, either to focus on their work or stay out of the limelight. In reality, Salinger’s private life is irrelevant because what we should remember about him will be that he produced a book with a very memorable protagonist, one who has resonated with more than five generations. Catcher in the Rye is one of those rare books like Le Petite Prince that parents and children both stand to gain something from discussing.
There are so many things I love about the book, including the personal narrative of Holden Caulfield who truly depicts the angst and issues of adolescence by illustrating his deep sense of alienation, continuous questioning, and rebelling against authority. I loved Salinger’s blending of the typical adolescent character with his cynical sense of humor and sensitivity which sometimes peeked through the terror of his inevitable hormonal rages. Holden frequently voiced the common belief held by many adolescents that adults are both phony and superficial.
Salinger’s writing style and voice has so inspired much of my own writing. In fact, I have read the book a number of times, particularly when trying to find the voice in my prose. I have tried reading his short stories, but they did not resonate with me nearly as much as Catcher in the Rye. Much of Salinger’s writing focuses on the youth and in fact, he was once quoted as saying, “I almost always write about very young people.”
As I prepared to write this blog, I did some research on Salinger’s life and came upon some interesting factoids that coincidentally resonates with my New Year’s resolution. Although the son of a Polish Jew, in his late twenties Salinger studied Zen Buddhism and adhered to Vendanta Hinduism which advocated celibacy and detachment from responsibilities. Perhaps these interests contributed to his reclusive nature. Salinger also adhered to the principles of kriya yoga and other eastern spiritual, medical and nutritional beliefs including those of Edgar Cayce.
I am curious to learn more about Salinger. Perhaps his heirs will discover hidden secrets, journals or unpublished manuscripts that they might choose to share, as such is usually the case. It seems to be that we are more inspired and curious about the lives of deceased artists than living ones. and as my son recently mentioned in an email, “some of the most famous artists are only recognized through their death.”
What do you think?