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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catcher in the Rye Dies

"Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you are dead? Nobody."

------The Catcher in the Rye

Holden Caulfield died today. More accurately, J.D. Salinger, the man whose fertile brain conceived of the iconoclastic literary figure that most of us read while in high school.

Most of us, that is, whose teachers were not freaked out at the notion of their students reading the novel. One of my high school english teachers refused to assign the book to her classes because of what she feared would be the effects on what she termed our "easily influenced minds."

The book and its reclusive author have developed a mystique since it was published in 1951. Teachers banned it from their classrooms, and one in New York was fired after he assigned it. Some of my friends ran to the library to grab the sole copy, which we read quickly and passed around ourselves before we had to give it back--there was a waiting list for it.

Curiously, I recall more about the machinations we had to undertake in order to obtain and read the novel more than many plot details. (Methinks I may have to add this to the list of "books I read when I was a kid" and maybe should re-read.) But Salinger's passing has brought the story once again into the spotlight, an arena that the writer himself shunned more and more as he grew older.

There were attempts to bring Holden to life on the silver screen and on Broadway, but those were made nearly impossible by Holden's creator. One brush with the "Hollywood-ization" of an earlier work made Salinger nervous about allowing anyone, included noted directors like Elia Kazan, to trample on his territory.

It's just as well -- a literary work is a direct connection with the writer's mind, dependant entirely on the reader's imagination to fill in the cracks and details. Maybe nobody should really know what Holden looked like, how his voice pitched, or how long a shadow he cast when he stood in the morning light.

This is as his legacy should be, not, as he feared, with flowers on his stomach.

Amen, and pass the mustard.

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