Moments ago came word that J. D. Salinger is dead at 91, which will bring from thousands that old, sad comment: “I thought he was already dead.”
They can be forgiven. No famous person ever fought against the celebrity culture more vigorously and more successfully than the author of The Catcher in the Rye, with its irresistible opening lines:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
He sure didn’t, and he never did.
I suppose Catcher will live on as long as English classes survive, but for anyone who never read it, I mean, you gotta be wondering about the title, you know, I mean what the hell’s up with that? Well, if you just gotta know, here’s the whole thing in a nutshell from Chapter 22:
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”
Okay, so that’s how you get to be the catcher in the rye, preserving innocence and all that crap. And you know what? I guess there are worse things to be.