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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dear Mr. Salinger,

Dear Mr. Salinger,

I assume you don't have the internet, though I am unsure why I am so near to certain that you would not. If I were to hermit myself away in New Hampshire for decades, I think I would still like to subscribe to the New York Times, The Believer and, well, the internet. But my seclusion habits and yours perhaps differ. You were born in a time before the internet, before The Believer. The New York Times has been around, though, since 1851, so. Perhaps I have already lost your attention, Mr. Salinger, talking about myself and technology. Allow me to continue.

I first read all four of your published books when I was a senior in high school. I started with Franny & Zooey, after my friend Alex threw me a copy (literally) while digging through his parents old books from their college days, giving me his opinion on each of them. He had two copies of Franny & Zooey, chucked me a copy and said "read this." I don't take everyone's "read this." as serious as I take Alex's. He wouldn't prescribe me a book without assessing my mental and academic symptoms first. He was correct in his diagnosis. Franny & Zooey is exactly what I needed.

There are storybook moments in everyone's life that maybe aren't worth discussing or explaining, but resonate in the back of the mind as reminders of who we once were. In one of mine, I am crying and I don't know why. I am sitting outside of Heim's supermarket in Bellmawr, NJ, reading this book. I am not crying because of the book. I am not not crying because of the book.

I mean treasure is treasure for heaven's sake. What's the difference whether the treasure is money, or property, or even culture, or even just plain knowledge? It all seemed like exactly the same thing to me, if you take off the wrapping-- and it still does! Sometimes I think that knowledge-- when it's knowledge for knowledge's sake, anyway-- is the worst of all. The least excusable anyway. (Franny & Zooey p. 146) (marked with a fortune cookie fortune in my copy that reads "Your career is moving more and more towards service to other." hm.)

When you look back at yourself as a teenager, your actions make too much sense: hindsight is twenty/twenty, right? Maybe I was crying because I knew I would feel this way someday. I knew that my youthful idealism would end and I would be Franny, like everyone else my age, lamenting the lack of meaning that culture, knowledge, college, the world seemed to offer. Not to have. But to offer. Nothing would ever offer me a solution to meaninglessness, I would have to find one and cling to it and believe myself when I said it mattered. Maybe. The book became a cult classic maybe well before my seventeen year old self discovered it, praised it, recommended it endlessly. In college, to love this book was a cliche. And I cared not.

Really, though, what I am saying, Mr. Salinger, is that your effect was universal in the best way that something could be universal. I don't know why you decided never to talk to anyone again. I can read your books like tea leaves and try to discern a possibility, but unless you come out and say so, all that scholars and fans alike will ever have are their musings. I hoped, honestly, that you would die while I was in graduate school and all of the work I hope that you've been writing, the files full of the Glass family saga, would be published. Then I could write my masters thesis on you and become a scholar of you and your cult following. Well, today, January 1, 2009, you turn ninety years old. I will receive my MA from NYU in the spring. Your death has yet to come. More power to you, though your longevity, to me, is absurd. I see know signs from you that you enjoy life. You gave the world characters they could trust and believe and then you backed away, waving your arms in front of you, "oh not, not this."

I wonder if you've read the Harry Potter books. Or the article in the Times about you from this past week. I wonder if you ever go outside. Nature, I would think, is a hermit's only ally. Dear Mr. Salinger, either way, unpublished manuscripts with words waiting to burst into print on the un/happy day of your departure from this world, either way, I am glad for your books. They resonate, like those memories you don't want to share. I am glad you shared with us the Glass family, Holden Caulfield, and a pervading aura of mystery that surrounds everything that has come from you. And despite your repulsion of the world, you didn't take the cowardly way out. You haven't done yourself in, and I, if anyone, appreciate this. I believe, I have always believed, to this day so far in my lifetime and most likely into the both near and far future, that you are if not the best, one of the greatest American writers.

So have your seclusion, have your earned privacy and have your mystery. When you are gone, I hope to at least be lucky enough to have something come of it. Whether it be twelve new novels perfected, a letter to the world, or a shopping list. A scrap of paper. Something to help it make enough sense that even if your hermitude still does not make sense, I will feel justified that we, your fans, your scholars, have not hoped all these years for what is only the same silence you meet us with alive. A handful of ashes, something to help make sense of a world that you have helped to point out, makes little sense.

Best, kimberly ann josephine southwick.

1 comment:

  1. "The Internet" is a fine publication but fails to give the insight and quality of production offered by both the New York Times and the Believer.

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    It's interesting that you choose to lament and celebrate Salinger's long life.

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    Have you read Shoeless Joe? A large chunk of that book involves kidnapping J.D. Salinger. Wondered what you thought of it.

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