American author J.D. Salinger died on January 27, 2010 at the age of 91. Perhaps best known for writing the 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger’s reputation as a recluse and the clockwork-like threats of censorship always seemed ready to eclipse his enormous talent as a writer.
Speaking of the aforementioned reclusiveness, most reports I’ve read online like to focus on Salinger’s eccentricities and his need for privacy, and I really don’t think that’s worth repeating here or there.
For me, it comes down to The Catcher in the Rye, a book my mother gave me in the summer of 1986, a book I devoured in a day and then immediately read again, this time slower. Twelve year old me didn’t understand everything the book was trying to say, but I knew enough to know that the book was somehow speaking to me from across the universe.
I’ve read the book a few more times since then, taught the book twice, and each time I’ve cracked its spine, I’ve discovered something new waiting for me. I admit that the book never spoke to me the same way it did back in 1986, but the book has a certain amount of power that’s undeniable, especially when you’re young.
The Catcher in the Rye is an American classic – American in the sense that no other country could produce such a book in that time, in that period, just as Dostoyevsky’s work is purely Russian. America may be a young nation, but its wealth of literature is breathtaking in terms of scope and richness. And when someone like Salinger gets to the clearing at the end of the path, it needs to be recognized, not only because of how great his work was, but because books like The Catcher in the Rye are some of the things that make American so individual and astonishing.