Reading The Catcher in the Rye has become a rite of passage for young Americans, landing the book on bestseller lists (and banned book lists) each year, even though it was published a half century ago. What is it about J. D. Salinger and his body of work that has left such a lasting mark on American fiction? And who better to answer that question than the current generation of writers?
Here are fourteen of the most vital voices in the contemporary American fiction scene pulling no punches in response to a writer who continues to beguile, charm, fascinate, and frustrate generations of readers. Contributors Walter Kirn, Ren? Steinke, Charles D’Ambrosio, Emma Forrest, Aleksander Hemon, Lucinda Rosenfeld, Amy Sohn, John McNally, Karen E. Bender, Thomas Beller, Benjamin Anastas, Aimee Bender, Joel Stein, and Jane Mendelsohn turn themselves inside out as they discuss their personal reactions to reading Salinger classics–not only The Catcher in the Rye but also Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters, and the short stories–and explore, with begrudging gratitude, how Salinger helped to form the deepest reaches of their literary imaginations.
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J.D. Salinger hasn't published a word of fiction since 1965, and his silence casts a shadow over With Love and Squalor, a collection featuring 14 contemporary writers riffing on the works of the famously reclusive author. Unlike several less-than-flattering accounts of Salinger's life published in recent years, this book is more about the writing than the writer. John McNally spends some time with The Catcher in the Rye's memorable minor characters in "The Boy That Had Created the Disturbance," while in "An Unexamined Life," Benjamin Anastas is inspired to reread Salinger after being branded as Salingeresque in the jacket blurbs of his own first novel. In "The Salinger Weather," coeditor Thomas Beller confronts a Salinger-reading stranger on the subway and experiences a "random city bonding moment." A real standout, though, is Aimee Bender's "Holden Schmolden." She wonderfully captures that moment of first discovering Catcher:
Reading it made me realize that even though he had been discovered ad nauseam by the world, one of the magical feelings about reading J.D. Salinger was that you, yourself, felt like you were discovering this writer for the first time and had made him yours in the discovery. Salinger invites possessiveness, in the best way.
Salinger fans should appreciate this uneven tribute album, even though there are a few tracks worth skipping. --Brad Thomas ParsonsAbout the Author:
KIP KOTZEN is a literary agent who divides his time between Los Angeles and New York. THOMAS BELLER is the author of two works of fiction ( Seduction Theory, stories; The Sleep-Over Artist, a novel) and a founding editor of Open City magazine and mrbellersneighborhood.com. His work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The New Yorker, and he is a contributing editor to The Cambodia Daily.
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