Author J. D. Salinger dies at 91

American author J. D. Salinger, best known for his novel "The Catcher in the Rye," died on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010, at his home in Cornish N.H. He was 91. Salinger had broken his hip in May of 2009, but had been in good health afterward. In recent days, however, Salinger’s health took a sudden downward turn, according to his literary representative.

Salinger’s work has been enormously influential to fiction. He remains one of the most widely read authors in the world. "The Catcher in the Rye"regularly sells 250,000 copies every year, and has sold 65 million copies to date.

Salinger was famously reclusive, living out his life after fame and success in the small town of Cornish, New Hampshire. Many fans and literary disciples made the trek to Cornish as if going on a spiritual journey, hoping to catch sight of Salinger or to somehow be granted an audience. The townspeople of Cornish were respectful of their famous resident's privacy, however, and were generally protective of the exact location of his home.

"The Catcher in the Rye" features the character of Holden Caulfield,
a young man in prep school who is disaffected with the world and its “phonies.” Caulfield’s alienation has connected with young people since the book appeared, and speaks to a modern angst at being unable to preserve any trace of the innocence of youth. The term “catcher in the rye” within the book refers to Caulfield’s fantasy of become someone who catches children who fall off a cliff, after being exposed to the corrupting influences of adulthood. Holden reveals this idea, which springs from him mishearing the Robert Burns song, “Coming Through the Rye,” to his young sister Phoebe, the one person whom he trusts.

"The Catcher in the Rye" has held a strangely persuasive power over disaffected youth searching for identity. It is as if Salinger tapped into an essential yearning in adolescents to escape the complexity and sullied nature of the adult world. On December 8th, 1980, Mark David Chapman bought a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" the morning before he shot John Lennon. After shooting Lennon, he didn’t flee the scene, but rather read from the book until the police arrived. In Chapman’s police statement, he was quoted as saying, “I’m sure the large part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in the book. The small part of me must be the Devil.”

The book has resisted numerous efforts to be made into a movie.
In the early 60’s, Bob Dylan was talked about as being the perfect person to play Holden Caulfield. In his Playboy interview of 1965, Dylan mentions having read "Catcher" as a teen. Actors who sought permission to play the role at various times were Marlon Brando,
Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Salinger never released the rights for the book to be filmed. 

Salinger’s other published literary works are "9 Stories," "Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour:An Introduction," "Franny and Zooey," and "Hapworth 16, 1924," a 25,000 word novella that was published in its entirety in June 16th, 1965 edition of The New Yorker. 9 Stories holds the highest critical acclaim of all of Salinger’s works. The book is regarded as a perfect story collection and is highly regarded by short story writers for its inventive plots and realistic dialogue.

In "9 Stories," "Franny and Zooey," and "Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction," Salinger portrays the Glasses, a fictional family of intellectual geniuses who are extremely uncomfortable in the world. According to Ms. Maynard, Salinger wrote continuously about the Glass family and had stacks of notebooks devoted to them. The "The Royal Tenenbaums" by director Wes Anderson is loosely based on Salinger’s Glass family, and one scene in the film mirrors a scene from the book "Franny and Zooey." Gus Van Sant's movie, "Finding Forester," starring Sean Connery, portrays a reclusive, Salinger-ish character.

Writer Joyce Maynard had a ten month affair with Salinger in 1972. She wrote for Seventeen Magazine and penned an essay for The New York Times, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life,” which won her instant wide acclaim and celebrity. Salinger wrote to her, warning her about the hazards of fame. They exchanged a number of letters until she came to Cornish and moved in with Salinger. He was 53, she 18, at the time. Maynard said in a 1974 interview that Salinger wrote every day, and had two completed novels in his home. Rumors of Salinger having a huge cache of literary output have circulated for years, but no new work by the author has come to light as of yet. For the last 45 years, Salinger remained fiercely protective of allowing any of his new work to be seen by the public and it remains to be seen what new works will be released now, upon his death.

Salinger’s literary legacy remains controversial in the literary and academic community, where there is divided opinion on the overall quality and value of his work when placed beside authors regarded
as major figures in the literary canon. Few other writers in history, however, have had as wide a reach and as strong an influence on their readership as J. D. Salinger.

J.D. Salinger at 31
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