I recently watched PBS’s American Masters (AM) episode on J. D. Salinger. What an eye opener this program is! If you haven’t seen it then I strongly suggest you put it on your list. The details of how his writing affected his life and how his life affected his writing will resonate with everyone who has put pen to paper.
J. D. Salinger is most notable for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye, which I actually don’t believe I have read. I plan to read it after watching the AM episode about his life and writing but plan to choose the time when I do so wisely. You’ll understand some by the end of this blog and even more when you watch the AM program.
I’ve always wondered about powerful writers and what motivates them to write the way that they write and about the subjects that they choose, and after watching the AM episode regarding Salinger it has added new meaning to write what you know.
To say that Salinger had a challenging life is to put it mildly. I hadn’t realized until watching the AM program that he had taken part in the D-Day invasion and not only was he a soldier participating BUT it was his first day of combat! I’m a US Army veteran and I can only imagine what it must have been like for D-Day to be anybody’s first day of combat.
To make the situation more exciting he actually carried with him into battle what he had written so far on his work that would become the novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Think about it – this was 1944 and not only did writers not have computers back then but the first photocopier machine had not yet been invented, so if Salinger had been killed or even wounded, you can only imagine what might have happened to his work-in-progress.
Talk about writer’s angst!
Add to all of this the fact that a number of killers have used Salinger’s work, The Catcher in the Rye, as a manifesto of sorts for why they killed or attempted to kill someone. The more notables of these include John Hinckley, Jr. who shot President Reagan, Mark David Chapman who shot John Lennon and Robert John Bardo who shot Rebecca Schaffer. Salinger's novel was also a sporadic favorite of younger generations over the many decades.
Ironically, Salinger never wanted any of his works to be popular bestsellers but rather literary bestsellers and when his work took on a more popular standing among the masses he was actually upset. You really have to watch the AM program to understand this.
So what is it about Salinger’s work that touched people so profoundly? Not sure yet since I haven’t read his work but I hope to find out soon. He sold millions upon millions of copies of his one novel alone without even trying. In fact, there were times when he tried to prevent his work from selling.
Salinger also wrote many other works and apparently he continued to write long after he had stopped publishing new works and some of his as yet published material is scheduled to be released starting in 2015. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 91.
In life, and even in death, Salinger has managed to accomplish a presence most writer’s wish they could have just a fraction of, and he did without really trying and while hiding away in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Here are some links to get you started on the mystery of J. D. Salinger: