R.I.P. J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger died quietly at 91. He was a rare author whose one novel provoked many of its millions of readers to claim that it had changed their lives. Maybe it makes sense to fall so hard for Holden Caulfield and maybe it doesn't. It is likely that one reason for Salinger's total withdrawal from the public eye in the mid '60s was that he did not want to be cast as a prophet for every skeptical kid in America.

The Catcher in the Rye is a really good book regardless of what you use it for, and his short stories are even better. As an aspiring writer, I can tell you that I read J.D. Salinger when I get in ruts. The passion of his characters and the energy of his writing is literally inspiring. Trolling his Wikipedia entry proves how common my reaction is -- big names like Updike and Yates are there singing the man's praises for reasons that are best captured by Aimee Bender: ""[I]t feels like Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye in a day, and that incredible feeling of ease inspires writing. Inspires the pursuit of voice. Not his voice. My voice. Your voice."

Sure, the backdrop of his work is the sort of New York we all agree is obnoxious, and I'm pretty sure you'd just want to punch most of his characters in the face if you actually met them. But get past the haughty objectivism on the surface and you will find arguments proven with sheer conviction and reckless love. Or maybe you're Bret Easton Ellis, in which case you greet the news of Salinger's passing like this.

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