J D Salinger (1919-2010)

Fellow writers pay tribute to the reclusive genius of American letters.

 

The response to the death of J D Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye (a novel that the New Statesman's reviewer Jocelyn Brooke described in 1951 as "odd, tragic and at times appallingly funny"), has been copious. Tributes have been paid in particular by fellow writers, who acknowledge his place in America's literary history.

Annie Proulx declared that "despite his crank personal life, his work is much honoured, something of a cairn on the plains of American literature". Stephen King said that he was not "a huge Salinger fan", but described him as "the last of the great post-WWII American writers".

Henry Allen, writing in the Washington Post, could not compare him to Hemingway "on safari", or to Fitzgerald "in the fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel", or even to Kerouac "hurling himself back and forth across America", because "they were famous public figures. Salinger was merely famous, idolised, envied; an acutely private figure who was a recluse for more than 50 years."

The author's style receives high praise. Robert Fulford wrote of Salinger's first publication, in 1948: "It was immediately obvious that a new writer, with a new voice, had appeared. His characters were sensitive, much given to verbal comedy and a kind of sophisticated cuteness, but they tended to make bizarre choices, perhaps committing suicide for some reason that readers could not easily understand."

Malcolm Jones, writing in Newsweek, strikes a more ambivalent note, recalling reading The Catcher in the Rye at 13: "All I remember about the experience was my ho-hum reaction when it was over . . . there was almost nothing in that book for me to connect with." But he concluded nonetheless that "I have him to thank for being the first writer whose work encouraged me to have my own opinions, no matter what anyone else said. That's a lot to be grateful for."

John Timpane at Philly.com considers Salinger's remarkable legacy: "What cannot be disputed is that his novel, novellas and short fiction have influenced half a century of writers, including Philip Roth, John Updike, Sylvia Plath and contemporary writers from Jay McInerney to Dave Eggers . . . Catcher may be a little dated. Yet a freshness remains in Holden's direct, slang-spangled American voice."

One of those contemporary writers, Dave Eggers, agrees. "His work meant a lot to me when I was a young person and his writing still sings, doesn't seem the least bit dated, and few were ever as good at dialogue as he was."

And John Walsh, in the Independent, joined everyone else in wanting "to find out exactly what this deeply talented, original and intensely self-conscious writer had been doing in his study for the last 55 years".

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SRSLY #111: The Problematic Faves Live Show

Live on stage at the London Podcast Festival, Caroline and Anna discuss one of the biggest dilemmas in pop culture: what to do when you discover that your fave is problematic.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen using the player below. . .

. . .or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on StitcherRSS and SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s head of podcasts and pop culture writer. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The Links

Listen to our previous discussion about "Your Fave Is Problematic" culture.

Dylan Farrow's piece for the New York Times.

Bethany Rose Lamont's piece for Rookie about Woody Allen.

For next time:

We are listening to the album Lighthouse by the Russian prog chamber duo iamthemorning. Listen to it on bandcamp here.

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we’d love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

We love reading out your emails. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we’ve discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at]gmail.com, or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.

Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 

See you next week!

PS If you missed #110, check it out here.