Sunday, December 26, 2010

Simple Joys of the Past - One in a Series

A celebration of little pleasures, once common, that now are relegated to history by time, technology, or changing custom.

#1 - Waiting for J.D. Salinger to Die
When I first read Catcher in the Rye, Salinger was still a relatively young man in his early 60s, and roughly 15 years had passed since his last published work.  But his reputation as a reclusive genius was fully formed even in the early 1980s, complete with debate over whether he might die without ever releasing another story. 

Over the years, Salinger's reputation grew in direct proportion to the urgency of that debate, which gradually morphed into a kind of literary deathwatch as he became an old man.  We all grew older, and we re-read Nine Stories and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenter and wrestled with the feeling that he was somehow - deliberately and personally - slighting us by staying away.  Our musings went from "Will he publish again?" to "When will that stubborn old bugger finally die, for chrissakes?"  After all, nearly 60 years elapsed after Catcher, and all the world had to show for it was a handful of short stories and novellas, and the most committed and complete withdrawal from the public eye in modern literary history.  And so, fans of J.D. Salinger fell into the habit each January 1 of casting a mental eye toward Connecticut and sending slightly rueful birthday wishes to the old hermit who refused to either publish or perish.

And then, on January 28, 2010, Mr. Salinger finally proved he was more mortal than his stories.  Although we've since discovered that he wrote almost constantly until the end of his life, he never did publish another word.  Bastard.  Maybe those writings will be published posthumously.  But whatever joy we may someday gain from reading them, I don't think it can ever compare to the creepy, obsessive pleasure we derived from waiting for their creator to kick the bucket.

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