In my last year of high school we were assigned to read Catcher in the Rye for English class and it really clicked. Obviously. I was angsty; I understood. Our English teacher had transferred from another school, and on his first day told us that he liked to incorporate drama elements into his English classes. Oh lord. Even though I had loved drama as a child (little known fact about me: I took acting classes when I was in middle school!), teenage angst had upped my melodrama quotient, but erased any love of drama of the theatre variety. Our teacher parcelled out sections of the book and made each of us read them to the class. This must have been hilarious to witness: kids putting on their acting voices and reciting Caulfied monologues? Oh lord, again. I remember one boy morally objected to Salinger’s use of profanity, but had gotten assigned a particularly f-bomb laden section. He replaced them with “fudge”. Can you believe it? Holden saying “fudge you”?! Amazing.
When I think of Catcher in the Rye, I think about how it’s one of the great unifiers of books. So many people have read it: people who have only read four books in their lives because they were forced to in high school, people who morally object to cursing, students of all social classes. We read it as part of my accounting firm book club a few years ago, even. And among all these people, you either hate it or love it, get it or don’t, and I’ve had many conversations with people on both sides of the fence. There aren’t many books that you can discuss like that.
I hold the Glass family a little closer to me. I don’t want to debate their oddities with the whole world; I’d rather bask in them by myself. I read the Glass family books one summer when my father was working in Greece. My mother and I visited him when I finished school for the year. He was living in a small town in Northern Greece. I was used to the dry, brittle landscape of Athens in the summertime, not the greenery of the mountains. I would lay in the cot set up for me, the door open for a breeze, the mountains visible in the distance, listen to my walkman and read about this family, all these kids and the things they said, so different from my life. And sometimes it’s the books you read when you’re on vacation and far away from home that stick with you the most. Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction, those stuck and still cling.
January has been a terrible month for deaths and I’ve felt more sorrow for Haiti, for Paul Quarrington and Kate McGarrigle’s passings from cancer, than I have for ol’ J.D, a 91 year old who has not participated in society for longer than I’ve been reading his books. I can’t help but feel guilty for focusing on him, but for someone who’s favourite genre of anything is “coming of age” I don’t know how I could not. So, rest in peace, J.D. Salinger, and thank you.