He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home

"Catcher In the Rye": A gateway drug to the hard stuff.

"Catcher In the Rye": A gateway drug to the hard stuff.

J.D. Salinger has finally gone where nobody can bother him.

“Catcher in the Rye” may have been the first real book to capture my attention. I had read a ton of crap — both my parents were fiends for education, never having had much themselves, and I had a library card about 30 seconds after exiting the womb. But “Catcher” really spoke to me, as it did to about a jillion other teen-agers who thought they were the only people alive who knew the world was full of phonies, morons, bastards and slobs.

Salinger sent me shambling down the dark alleys of American literature, where I made more strange friends — Jack Kerouac, Ed Abbey, Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Jim Dodge and Charles Bukowski. I never really made it back to Main Street.

The New Yorker has slapped up 13 Salinger stories on its website, and The New York Times has a long obituary. Rest in peace, Holden Caulfield.

14 Responses to “He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home”

  1. md anderson Says:

    Maybe it’s a gender thing, but while I thought “Catcher” was a very good book, it didn’t speak to me. I don’t think it has quite the same effect on teenage girls.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s time to pull it down off the shelf after 35 years.

  2. Patrick O'Grady Says:

    Yeah, I think “Catcher” may be gender-specific for people of a certain age, like the Three Stooges or fucking up in general.

    There seems to be something quintessentially masculine about the desire to fuck up, particularly on a heroic scale that involves feeling condemned to walk the earth more or less alone. Thomas McGuane pretty much owns this theme, but Roy Blount Jr. wrote an amusing essay that touched on the role of the XY chromosome in fucking up, “I Always Plead Guilty,” which was included in his collection “What Men Don’t Tell Women.”

    Blount conceded that men have had more opportunity to fuck up because women historically had been chained to hearth and home. He agreed that this was changing, but added, “(M)odern women who take control of their own lives and so on aren’t interested in fucking up. They are interested in proving that they can run a tight-ship software firm.” He added, “One thing women are definitely not interested in is becoming characters in men’s fuck-up stories.” And I think most of the women in “Catcher” were just that and little more, save Holden’s sister, Phoebe.

    That said, the times they are a-changing, and the playing field may be leveling a tad. Plenty of women are fucking up on a grand and very public scale, and if they make it appealing enough in a Joan d’Arc sense, we may yet have a plague of Phoebe Caulfields dreaming of getting kicked out of Pencey and taking the train to New York.

  3. Brook Says:

    Took me years to figure out the song that inspired the title, felt like a minor triumph when I did.

  4. md anderson Says:

    I guess I couldn’t figure out why one had to fuck up to take a train to New York.

  5. md anderson Says:

    Well as an addendum; For centuries women were, by definition, out of the mainstream. Any thought or action outside of hearth and home was rebellion. We’ve been closet rebels all our lives. Given any bit of opportunity or encouragement and we’d be on that train in a heartbeat.

  6. Patrick O'Grady Says:


    Come to think of it, Phoebe was something of a closet rebel, a guerrilla in deep cover. And she was the only person Holden really seemed to respect without reservation, beyond his dead brother Allie, he of the poems on the baseball mitt. Now I’m gonna have to get back into my dogeared copy.

  7. James Says:

    There are some who would say that “taking the train to New York” is fucking up, but that might be something for someone else to answer as my memories of “Catcher” are really, really, really not coming back. Patrick, after you’re done with your copy could you loan it my way…I think I need a refresher myself.

  8. steve o Says:

    Goodnight, Buddy, Seymore, BooBoo, Walt, Waker, Franny, Zooey, and Holden.

    And stop looking at my feet!

  9. steve o Says:

    Not an advocate of take money from a writer’s wallet, but since he’s gone and no longer has need for worldly possessions …

    Everything he ever wrote is here:


    I named my dog after his character Zooey, which puts me in the same company as David Bowie and the folks at Powell’s Books.

    Now, off to throw up that apple and to try to grow an arm …

  10. Jeff in PetroMetro Says:

    I had such a powerful connection to this book when I read it. So powerful that I only read it once and put it away. It was such a strong, raw, angry feeling that I sold my copy twenty + years ago just to get it out of my house. Then I saw the picture of your copy, Patrick, and it’s all come back.

    There was just nothing happy about all the novels I read before Catcher: 1984, On the Road, Desolation Angels, The Sun Also Rises, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, Soul on Ice, Black Like Me, All Quiet on the Western Front, Death of a Salesman, All the Kings Men.

    I wasn’t yet an adult, and all the stuff I was reading at the time was pretty bleak. Punk was huge and I couldn’t get enough of it. Ronnie Raygun was really into sword rattling. Nuclear annihilation was a foregone conclusion–it was going to happen before I got out of high school.

    My dad encouraged me to run with a privileged crowd, and I did. I didn’t have the means, but I could adapt to almost any situation and could fall in with just about anyone.

    I consciously helped my well-to-do friends seriously fuck up while I stood aside and watched the chaos. I was big into a subtle anarchy.

    I was not in a hurry to be an adult. I’d read and decided how screwed up adults were, and I could look around and see it in realtime.

    And then I read Catcher.

  11. Tanya Says:

    I disagree that “Catcher” captivated a gender specific audience. Like you Patrick, it was the first book I read that I really ‘got’ and also introduced me to the same cast of characters and literary geniuses that I continue to read to this day. In my adolescence, my best friend and I used to walk home from school quoting Holden and creating inside jokes that were direct quotes from this book. When my best friend met her untimely demise before becoming a phoney, moronic adult, she was cremated with this book.
    Before I lost my stolen copy of “Catcher in the Rye” (Which I ‘borrowed’ from my school library) I had read this book at least a dozen times. I think Holden spoke to any anxious, socially misfited teenager that felt like they may not fit into the mainsteam so much. It is a book I give to all my teenaged nieces and nephews. Hell, I still don’t fit into the mainstream.
    Last night I toasted to J.D. Salinger, tonight we’ll be toasting to Holden.

  12. gloria stitz Says:

    love all those thoughtful comments. I just want to weigh in as a sort of fuck up myself, and huge fan of Salinger too. At my college, kids would pilgrim over to Cornish NH to see if they could get him to answer the door. Why I didn’t bother, well, might be because recluses should really be left alone, and somehow I knew it.
    Then I met Joyce Maynard who’d written “an 18 year old looks back on life” for the NYTimes mag, and learned how she was bundled up and delivered (willingly of course) to his doorstep as a sort of galatea-child/wife…
    and I really got “mixed Phelans” about Salinger. The writing I thought brilliant.The man, very messed up.
    Well, I’m going to look up Howard Zinn’s big book instead of Catcher.
    Mostly because I haven’t read it, wheras the other one I’ve read twice.
    Happy new year, and hope everyong gets to ninety one if that’s what they want…

  13. steve o Says:

    Love him or hate him … the man wrote a book that sells a quarter mil a year, 50+ years after first publication.

    Sure, McDonald’s sells that many hamburgers in a week … so that’s hardly a measuring stick worth hanging ones hat on (and that mixed metaphor is one of the 87 reasons I’ll never write the great American novel!).

  14. steve o Says:

    Looks like the Free Hub website that held all of JD’s collection has been taken down. Was just a matter of time, I guess.

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