Friday, 29 January 2010

The Bearer of Bad News

I had some things planned for writing today, there's some scribbles in a notepad somewhere that prove that. No doubt I'll get it done some time soon, but today is a little aside from all that. You see, J.D. Salinger died yesterday, and I though a little reflection here would serve well.

Initially, I was going to go on about the meaning behind the title of Salinger's best known work, Catcher in the Rye, what with it having come from a proverb and all. However, I recently discovered just how influential the book itself was, and felt that that really need to be shared with you, dear reader.

In its early years, Catcher got some dodgy reviews, because a lot of academic-types have a little difficulty sympathising with the main character (hell, I did). It still does, but critics now see it as a classic work, depicting a controversial coming-of-age, mentally unstable teenager. One of the books early supporters, though, was one George H.W. Bush (that's George Bush's dad). He claims it to be one of the books that inspired his career. Keep that in your mind, because I want to look at some of the other people it inspired a bit later on.

When I say some people didn't like the book, I don't mean they just shrugged it off, oh no. In 1960, 9 years after its publication, a teacher was fired for setting it as a class text. For the next few years, it was the most censored book in American schools and libraries. The main character, Holden Caulfield, was deemed to have such a dangerous complex, that they didn't want the damn thing near anyone. Generally, these people have no idea what happens in the book, and censorship only made it more popular, like the Sex Pistols. Mhm, this is the Punk of books. One teacher made the remark that the people who were trying to stop it being read were being "just like Holden". Buuurn...

Ok, so it had some impact at the time, but what has it done to you? What in the world of culture has been inspired by Salinger's baby? Well, you cynical thing, remember I said something about Holden's messed up complex? Guess what? It's all over your culture! Green Day and Offspring count the book as inspirational, if it didn't already show, and films like Donnie Darko owe their protagonists to the genius of J.D.

But there's a catch. Whilst Catcher might have inspired a lot of music, it's also killed some. Ever heard of The Beatles? Then I'm sure you know what happened to John Lennon. Well, his killer was found with a copy of Catcher in which he had written "This is my statement", and then signed in the name of Holden Caulfield. He even quoted the thing in his trial. This guy wanted to be Holden. Other murderers, like the man who killed Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer, or the guy who tried to bump Reagan off, have had links to the book. And it inspired George Bush Snr....

The point of this post isn't to be funny or clever, it's to remember a man and his work. It'll live on for a damn good time more, so long as I can help it, because it's been such an influence. Salinger made his stories get off the page and into our lives. Because of his inspiration, the world around us has literally been altered to an unimaginable degree (what would Lennon be doing now?). Not only that, but his style was flowing and expressive, his characters clear, and it stories compelling. Any writer who can do all those things in one book deserves remembrance, as far as I'm concerned.

It'll be business as usual with the next post.


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