By now the news of JD Salinger’s death has already made its way across the nation’s airwaves and its newspapers. If you look closely it’s all stories of eccentricities and his misanthropic nature, the literary genius who his away from his adoring public. Sure, any print article on Salinger is bound to speak of the controversy that ensued after the publication of his most well-known novel, Catcher in the Rye. But so many of these pieces on him are caught up in his relationship to the public, the controversy he created, and not one person seems to talk about the people he inspired. Well, seeing as I can’t speak for too many other people, I suppose this is focused on how he inspired me.
I don’t want to say he inspired me to write. That title doesn’t belong to just one person and in memorializing someone, I want to steer clear of cliches. He gave a voice to thoughts. Obviously not just my thoughts, but he gave a voice to a generation that was too afraid to speak out and to actually be heard. I hesitate to use the term “generation” because I feel that that particular insecurity belongs to an age group, not a specific time or place. Regardless, he showed us what it was like to be heard, even if people wanted to ignore it. However, this isn’t just about what he did for America in his writing. If you’re looking for that, check the Red Eye or the Tribune. Instead, this is about the intimate relationship Salinger allowed me to form with a character I’d never known before.
I won’t lie to you, my first introduction to Salinger was through Catcher in the Rye. After all, it’s his most popular for a reason. Until then, I’d never really understood the personal relationship that a reader can have with a character (or a writer) that they’d never known. JD Salinger introduced me to the possibilities of what this sacred relationship between reader and writer could be. To say that I want to be him or even write like him would be a disservice to his memory. No one ever will, so I’ve pretty much given up on that idea. However, through his writing, and not just Catcher in the Rye but Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey, he captivated me. It wasn’t just his words or his characters, it was the authenticity of the world he created. I wanted to be a part of it, and in a sense, I was. At least, we all were. Although some people may not agree with the way he wrote it, we can all relate to feelings of alienation and the false promise of our futures. JD Salinger’s work was the human condition and I only hope to one day be the writer he is. I know it may not happen today or tomorrow, but one day I want to be able to return the favor and have someone read my work and feel the connection between reader and writer, to feel as if it had been written especially for them. Until then, my inane ramblings that are far from Salinger-esque will just have to do, but hey, even Salinger had to start somewhere.