Tag Archives: J.D. Salinger

My Heart Is An Autumn Garage

1 Feb

Confession – I used to say that J.D. Salinger was one of my favourite authors, until I started to get the feeling that it wasn’t cool, and that only moping teenagers identified with his writing. And like a lot of people, I’d kind of just assumed he’d kicked the bucket a long time ago, until he resurfaced to stop that crappy-sounding Catcher sequel from being published.

But now it’s time to say that Franny and Zooey is still one of my favourites and probably the most re-read book in my collection (I have the occasional bout of insomnia, and always turn to the same handful of books to calm me down during the night). It has the best description of a bathroom ever – who didn’t want a good long smoke in the tub after reading it? And the dialogue between matriarch Bessie Glass and bathing beauty Zooey Glass is truly LOL-worthy (a term which I promise I only bestow upon things that actually make me laugh. Out loud.)

“The word is ‘washcloth,’ not ‘washrag,’ and all I want, God damn it, Bessie, is to be left alone in this bathroom. That’s my one simple desire. If I’d wanted this place to fill up with every fat Irish rose that passes by, I’d’ve said so. Now, c’mon. Get out.”

“Zooey,” Mrs. Glass said patiently. “I’m holding a clean washrag in my hand. Do you or don’t you want it? Just yes or no, please.”

“Oh, my God! Yes. Yes. Yes. More than anything in the world. Throw it over.”

And for the record, his famously liberal use of italics doesn’t bother me at all.

I read a lot of Salinger stuff over the weekend (like Dave Eggers’ love letter in The New Yorker and The Onion’s ode to phonies), as well as the required number of stories-locked-up-in-a-safe theories. By far my favourite tribute was this one, from Jezebel’s Sadie Stein. She ends it with an anecdote that’s just too good not to rip off and include here:

On that note, the other day I met a guy on the street. “If I was gonna talk to you it was now or never,” he said, by way of introduction, “and I can see from your face that you wish it had been never.” After that I felt bad, and he was clearly a lot younger than me and harmless if weird, and it was broad daylight, so we walked together to the subway. His name was David. He was obviously an enormous fuckup. He talked incessantly and told me he’d been kicked out of community college recently and was living at home. His mom was a big activist, which had made him apolitical. His dad lived “somewhere in Asia, not sure.” He was also sleeping with a “cougar,” and also a girl his own age, even though she was “a cornball and a social-climber.” She was insecure, “but maybe she should be – that sounds bad, but maybe that’s okay, sometimes – because she doesn’t have her own shit going on. I mean, she’s into shit, but she doesn’t have her own shit.” He didn’t like to read but, and here he produced, Mark David Chapman style, a copy of Catcher in the Rye (the burgundy one) from his backpack. “That’s some shit, right there,” he said, and replaced it. It occurred to me then that he was sort of much more of a logical heir to that book than all the preppy fashion-spreads and disaffected actors put together, and something about it made me very happy. “Well, I’ll be seeing you,” he said when we reached the subway (although this was obviously not true) and got on his bike to go to “the Jewish Center, because on Thursdays they have free cookies.”


They Made Me Read This

1 Dec

My university chum (and future teacher) Miss Randell has been thinking about what she would make high-schoolers read if the curriculum were up to her, and has decided that she would limit the Shakespeare:

Why should students be forced to read Shakespeare every year of high school? I mean, it has to be translated for them (“OK y’all, so this is why Sampson biting his thumb was so badass…“) and as anyone who’s ever paraphrased Willy S will know, changing the language pretty much ruins the play.

You know what ruins anything? Being forced to listen to the entire class taking turns reading every line out loud. This is the required reading from high-school that stuck with me:

Grade 6: Hatchet – Awesome. Only downside? That it made us all secretly wish we were lucky enough to be in plane crash in which the pilot is tragically killed. Also, I drew a sweet hatchet on my book report cover.

Grade 7: Nada – I was busy hating everyone and wishing I had cooler jeans.

Grade 8: I think we just read short stories arranged around themes like “family” and “courage.” Then we’d talk about these themes in “literature circles,” my worst memory of high-school English. We pushed our desks into clumps and asked pre-set questions like, “Do you think a family has to have two parents to be a real family?”

Grade 9: Of Mice and Men – I always got George and Lennie mixed up, because Lennie is a smart, skinny name and George is a big, dumb name. The Pearl – I just kept hoping, over and over again, that maybe everything would turn out ok in the end. I’m not sure if we were really supposed to read two Steinbecks in a row, but I had a just-about-retired teacher that year and he probably thought, to hell with it, The Pearl is really short.  

Grade 10: The Chrysalids – Humans evolve, with extra digits and telepathy. I liked it. Flowers for Algernon – Miss Randell’s right to add some funnier picks to her reading list. It’s a good story, but, at risk of being spoilery, a real downer. Macbeth – Ditto.

A-levels: (I moved to a Brit school in Warsaw). Great Expectations – I wrote essays about Miss Havisham and thought I was a genius. Macbeth again – I dusted off my old “witch voice” routine to use during all class discussions. Genius. Lots of William Blake – My friend Vic and I used cell phones to compose music for The Lamb. Genius. 

More A-levels: (Moved to Worcester here in the UK). Wuthering Heights – I didn’t enjoy it, and having to read it five or six times didn’t help much. I just didn’t buy the whole dying of a broken heart thing. Antony and Cleopatra – We got to go to Stratford-upon-Avon. Before I moved, my Warsaw class was about to do A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Death of a Salesman. I remember because I kept the books.

If it were up to me, I would add some juicier Young Adult Fiction to junior high, to ease the transition between poems about family and tomes about Society. A little Lois Lowry, perhaps? Some Mixed Up Files or Selected Works of T.S. Spivet? And why not let them go to town on The Catcher in the Rye? Hell, they might even think it’s grand, or swell, and not goddamn phony at all.

Teachers out there (or other people who think those darn kids need some good literature!) – what’s on your dream syllabus? Think about it – some of these kids may never open a book again.