I never got around to reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was an angsty teenager, as I believe you are supposed to, and upon discovering in university that I had never read it, my friend Dahl was shocked and appalled and insisted I remedy that immediately. I did, and I … didn’t like it. At all, really. And I was disappointed, because it’s a classic, and with classics you kind of expect to love them, or at very least appreciate them on some level, and I wasn’t capable of doing either. Undaunted, Dahl insisted I read Nine Stories, which I did, and Franny and Zooey, and the rest of the books about the Glass family, and I complied, reluctantly at first, and then more willingly, and then voraciously. To this day, I’m really unsure of exactly why Catcher is considered Salinger’s great work of genius, because the rest of his writing is almost overwhelmingly poetic and sophisticated and tortured and brilliant and … just really, really great to read.
The pages of my well-loved copy of Nine Stories are a little dog-eared and the cover is a little wrinkly from being taken to the beach one too many times, because I always take it on vacation with me, and every time I reach the end of A Perfect Day for Bananafish, I’m still breathless with shock and sadness, and I’m not sure why, except to suggest that maybe a small part of me had hoped it would end differently and it never, ever does. I think I felt the same way about Salinger himself, or at least his impending death. I knew it would end someday, and I knew how it would end, and yet I was more than a little desperate for some other outcome whenever I thought about it, which admittedly wasn’t often, because I’m not often on vacation and he certainly was rarely in the news and never, ever in the public eye.
He was old (and so, so weird) and I knew he’d die eventually, and I knew when he died we’d all start salivating over the rumoured pages and pages (and pages and pages) of writing he has produced in secret since he stopped publishing 45 years ago. Mostly I knew I’d feel guilty about wanting to read what would inevitably be published against what was very clearly his will while he was alive, but I guess I always kind of hoped it wouldn’t play out this way, that maybe he’d stop being crazy and tortured long enough to publish some things on his own before he died, or that I’d get over this hangup I have about reading books and stories that aren’t finished or aren’t approved for publication by the author, but I think it’s been obvious to everyone that it would have the outcome we were all expecting.
Now he’s gone, and there’s no one around who seems like they’ll be willing to protect his legacy, and in a year or two (if even that long) the shelves at Chapters will be flooded with displays featuring the new, previously unpublished works of J. D. Salinger, and there will be trailers on t.v. advertising a movie version of Catcher, probably staring one of the Jonas brothers, and it won’t feel like this private thing anymore, me and bananafish on the beach, but I’ll probably read it all anyway, because frankly I’d be an idiot not to. I don’t know how to feel, except a little devastated that my favourite writer is dead, and a bit like — as someone I know said yesterday when the news broke — a circling vulture, and a very excited one at that.