Remembering the life and words of J.D. Salinger

By Sydney Stokoe

Our writers are dying. In many ways writers of modern literature are dead as soon as their last work is published. Unlike the music and movie stars of today, the author silently puts their thoughts to work, remaining out of the public eye; the invisible hand behind the most important aspects of the thinking world. They fade rapidly from the foreground of our thought and even while still alive, more often than not, they are only publicly alive in their printed work.

J.D. Salinger, best known for The Catcher in the Rye, died on January 27 at the age of 91. The quiet, reclusive author had been out of the public eye for some time, giving his last interview back in 1980 and publishing his final story as far back as 1965. Despite his disappearance from the intellectual circus, Salinger remains alive through the appreciation, discussion and study of his work. Authors have the opportunity for immortality and it is up to the reader to grant them such.

The best known of Salinger’s few works, and his only novel, The Catcher in the Rye was the subject of several book bans, mostly due to its vulgar language and the less-than-school-appropriate actions of the teenage protagonist. The idea that his book would be banned from schools greatly upset Salinger, who was quoted as saying, “Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all my best friends are children. It’s almost unbearable for me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach.”

The Catcher in the Rye is still well studied and its message is no less important than when published in 1951. However, Salinger, like any author of a modern classic, suffers a decreasing audience. Today’s readers have the unfortunate complex of enjoying mediocrity. Reading has moved from high culture to a more base audience, and with it came the collections of garbage that somehow occupy bestseller lists. People no longer read things that make them think. They want easy entertainment to fill the hours between work and sleep. Cliche as it sounds, there was a time when literature was harder to come by, and thus only the best was published, only the most important, the most influential made it into the reader’s hands.

We are the root of literary life. In today’s modern world, the appreciation of meaningful literature is dying, and with it, our authors are fading away. The only way for a writer to stay alive in the world is if their works are being read, discussed and debated. This is not referring to the mediocre melodrama of paperback fiction, but rather those works that have the potential to challenge a society. Given the right audience, the written word can change the world. We can keep writers like Salinger alive after death; go pick up a book, read deeply.

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