J.D. Salinger meant a lot to me growing up, as I know he meant a lot to myriads of other young angsty teens and young angsty twenty-somethings. Or not so angsty, as the case may be. I assume most of those angsty (or not so angsty) people out there were (and are) men, like me, but I could be wrong. I assume, also, that they're mostly in their teens and twenties (maybe), but I could be wrong about that too.
Salinger has for a while taken a bad rap among the literary establishment, it seems to me. I think a lot of this has to do with how he was perceived - that his demographic is what I've briefly described above: Holden Caulfield the white, well-to-do, angsty, teen boy, is most obviously relatable to other white, well-to-do, angsty teen boys. Perhaps. I don't know.
What I do know is that, even as a relatively white, relatively well-to-do, certainly angsty teen boy, it wasn't Holden Caulfield that endeared and enamored me to Salinger. It was Zooey Glass, along with the other precarious (not to say precious) members of the Ziegfield Follies like Glass family (excepting Seymour, the most precarious and precious of the bunch, who, except in the wonderful A Perfect Day For Bananafish, seems much more annoying in life than in death). The Glass family was the family I wanted, and it was in Nine Stories, in Franny and Zooey, and in Raise High The Roof Beam Carpenters that I fell head over heels for Salinger's honest, dazzling world.
Franny and Zooey may be the first book I loved passionately. I am sure I will write more on this subject someday, elsewhere, but the themes of the book, along with how the story is told, made the novel open up for me in a way few have done since. That letter that Zooey Glass reads in the bathtub from her wonderful brother Buddy opened my eyes to epistolary charm, and opened my heart to the pain of losing and the intensity of caring for someone you love, and the pleasure of conveying that loss in words. It was the intelligent Glass's, then, and not the insolent Caulfield's, that turned me into a Salinger junkie.
And it was a Salinger junkie I became. In the years before you could find everything you wanted (and many things you didn't) on the Internet, I joined the Library of Congress (petitioning my Congressman for an ID, as I was too young to get an official ID at the time) for the sole reason of gaining access to Salinger's uncollected works. The two books, created from all of his writings in The New Yorker and elsewhere that had not been published in book form, were a delight to look at and to read (I couldn't enjoy touching them, as they were located in the rare books reading room and the pages had to be turned with extreme care). They're all now on the Internet. Do a Google search and enjoy: A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waste at All is my favorite.
I suppose if Salinger kept publishing, he would have stayed more at the forefront of my consciousness. But as everybody knows, Salinger stopped publishing (although I hope to God he didn't stop writing) works over forty years ago, and his writings, for one reason or another, slowly faded to the edges of my mind.
When my wife called me on Thursday (I was at a lawyer's conference, an affair Holding Caulfield, let alone Seymour Glass, would certainly have scoffed at) to let me know Salinger had passed, my first thought, surprisingly (and sadly, in retrospect) was joy. Now, perhaps, some of the works he's been sitting on for who knows how long will be published. Now, maybe, we can finally have a good biography on the man, one published without fear of libel suits. It was a moment before I realized the creator of some of the most iconic and memorable characters of Twentieth century American fiction - of American fiction in general - had passed. Even though he's been quiet for decades, it's still a great loss that he is no longer with us.