Saturday, January 30, 2010


So there's a lot of this about:

"I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetary. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody."

And that's fair enough, I guess. I liked Catcher second time around. My first reading was aged 12 or so, alongside a proto-misery memoir called The God Squad. Between the pair of them I decided when you were in your teens you were either an asshole or got treated like one. Later, when I was twenty-one and housesitting for a summer, I read it again.

At that point, I could look at Holden with the rueful eye of one who had known heartbreak, drunkenness and poor grooming choices. Ten years later, with my cataract-beset eyes, I think Salinger's fiction worked best as a hymn to past lives, as a romantic aide-memoire to experiences we had or almost-did and feelings we didn't realise were comforting at the time.

I didn't like Holden when I was 12 because he was such a vivid representation of the sort of kids who tyrannize younger ones - meaning he was like every boy older than I was - and I had no interest in empathising with someone I instinctively knew would have pummelled me for any reason at all. I held fast to that impression even as I inhaled the book over a weekend and called it up every time being intellectually cynical about literature came up in my life in the next 9 years (not enough for my liking but certainly much more than anyone else could have done with - I was the type of teenager who dismissed the Bluetones as 'derivative'. Didn't get away with that). It served me well when I spent fifth & sixth year being sniffily dismissive of Stephen Dedalus, another teenage disaster I would revisit in later youth. Basically, I disliked Holden first because I couldn't be him, ignored him when he informed every part of who I was, then was sucker-punched by a nostalgic reading of him when I was 4 years older than him. A phony, if you must know.

I haven't read Catcher since, but I will fight anyone who says From Esme With Love & Squalor isn't one of the best short story collections ever written (By 'fight', I do of course mean 'write something snarky on the internet but run away if I ever see you on the street').

The thing is, my earliest connection with the Salinger name came earlier and in the soup of my subconscious, could well be just as significant. I first saw it in Oscars, a small video store, when I was 10(?) or so. Never rented it. Which is strange, because normally anything with costumes went straight to the top of my must-watch list. I think even then I must have had some sense of how awful it might be - bear in mind I watched and LOVED Nicholas Hammond's Spider-Man - so I never saw more than the video cover (which I could probably draw from memory, stills and all. I was/am very sad).

So, something more cheerful. Here you go:

He may have been crazy, a shut-in, a Zen Buddhist, had problematic relationships and/or many other things. I don't know. I don't care, really. But his work has stuck with me, for better and worse. And his kid was in a schlocky B movie. What's not to like?

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Welcome to my blog. I'm a freelance writer/journalist/researcher/editor. I write about education and ideas I've had for the Irish Times. I also research, write and edit for writers, publications and websites. Here I put things that tend not to fit anywhere else. Enjoy.

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