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January 30, 2010

JD Salinger: My Man, My Myth, My Legend. ~Megan Johnson

One day after Professor Howard Zinn passed away, we lose one of our greatest, and most reclusive writers: JD Salinger. If you haven’t read his work, what there is of it, do. Take the time, you’ll enjoy and cherish it.  From JD Salinger: Tribute ~via Waylon Lewis

We collect our “firsts” like official badges of our memories. First Kiss, first car, first apartment. Each one holds some sort of significance to its owner. Like many American teenagers, The Catcher in the Rye will forever be known as My First Salinger. However, it was by no means my last. While some readers refer to the tale of Holden Caulfield as Salinger’s magnum opus, I always viewed the novel as the starting point for my fascination with Salinger himself. Sure, The Catcher in the Rye turned on the key to my Salinger obsession, but it was the Glass family that hit the gas pedal. In reading the intricate stories of Franny, Zooey, Seymour, and their siblings, I began to idealize Salinger the man just as much as I did his characters. I viewed him as the ultimate spokesman for the alienated minority of precocious, but troubled, individuals like myself.

As I got older, I delved into historical information that could provide me with details about JD Salinger himself. Through the writings of his children, Margaret and Matt, and his teenage lover, Joyce Maynard, I soon discovered that Salinger was clearly not the magical hero I imagined him to be. As a love interest, he was controlling and sometimes cruel. As a father, he could transition from overbearing to indifferent in a second. When I finally saw Salinger as a husband, father, and friend, my infatuation with his image faded. Could it be? The man who spent so much time deriding “phonies” through Holden Caulfield was possibly just as phony himself? I guess I’ll never know for sure. But one absolute truth is how present Salinger’s influence is all around us. It would be difficult to imagine such modern-day films as Igby Goes Down and The Royal Tenenbaums, and television shows like Gossip Girl, without the uber-educated, New York-drenched isolation of Holden Caulfield, Franny Glass, and Zooey Glass. These characters were the blueprints of troubled young adults who were supposed to have it all, but couldn’t quite seem to keep it together.

While Salinger was definitely no angel, his obvious flaws serve as a reality check for day-dreaming readers like me who spent years idealizing the man, rather than his work. Despite his amazing ability to create characters that find humor in tragedy and hope in sadness, JD Salinger proved to be a fallible human being just like the rest of us.

Megan Johnson lives in Boston and writes for a variety of internet and print publications. She chronicles her life on her appropriately-named website, Down and Out on Beacon Hill.

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