Wednesday, February 03, 2010

In Remembrance Of J.D. Salinger

Here's an article from The New Yorker about J.D. Salinger, written in remembrance of him by one of his longest and closest friends. An excerpt:

A single straight fact is that Salinger was one of a kind. His writing was his and his alone, and his way of life was only what he chose to follow. He never gave an inch to anything that came to him with what he called a “smell.” The older and crankier he got, the more convinced he was that in the end all writers get pretty much what’s coming to them: the destructive praise and flattery, the killing attention and appreciation. The trouble with all of us, he believed, is that when we were young we never knew anybody who could or would tell us any of the penalties of making it in the world on the usual terms: “I don’t mean just the pretty obvious penalties, I mean the ones that are just about unnoticeable and that do really lasting damage, the kind the world doesn’t even think of as damage.” He talked about how easily writers could become vain, complaining that they got puffed up by the same “authorities” who approved putting monosodium glutamate in baby food.

He loved children with no holds barred, but never with the sentimental fakery of admiring their “purity.” After watching his son, Matthew, playing one day, he said, “If your child likes—loves—you, the very love he bears you tears your heart out about once a day or once every other day.” He said, “I started writing and making up characters in the first place because nothing or not much away from the typewriter was reaching my heart at all.”
Over the years, Salinger told me about working “long and crazy hours” at his writing and trying to stay away from everything that was written about him. He didn’t care about reviews, he said, but “the side effects” bothered him. “There are no writers anymore,” he said once. “Only book-selling louts and big mouths.”
He was original even in the way he found his pleasures. He told me that one day he went out and bought an iron, and had his housekeeper iron his shirts. “How it cheered me up,” he said. After he bought a Maytag washer and dryer, he was tickled that the salesman quoted Ruskin to him—something about where quality counts, price doesn’t. He was sure that the line wasn’t part of the man’s spiel. “God, how I still love private readers,” he wrote. “It’s what we all used to be.”

I blogged here about how much I liked Bill Watterson after reading his interview, and I find similar feelings about Salinger after reading this piece. There are differences in that Watterson seems more accommodating, more approachable and easier to open up than Salinger, who for all intents presents himself as a cantankerous and rude person (and discourtesy is something I often find hard to stomach). Both though knew who they were (or at least, chose who they became because it fit them), and because of that, stayed or went as they pleased and on their own terms. I think what I like most about them is that both men, at least in terms of their craft, and perhaps also with a bit more of their personalities, have no masks. They don't let their creations, or the comments about them--positive or negative--affect them; they approach themselves and their craft with their feet firmly planted on the ground (I like though that Watterson seems to have approached this with a greater sense of humour than Salinger). What did Rudyard Kipling say in "If", about treating the impostors success and failure the same? I think Watterson and Salinger also treated praise and criticism the same. Pretension is not in them, or the desire for attention; neither the bitterness from whatever ugly things were said about their work, nor the smug conceit and self-importance that can come from effusive praise. Perhaps it is this honesty that has shone through in their creativity, and what their readers have sensed and come to love, or at the very least, respect.


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