Monday, February 1, 2010

Everything J.D. Salinger

For the last small while I have been hanging out in Johnsonville with the always lovely Anthony and trying to catch up with everyone in Wellington, while taking in such ridiculous events as: Neko Case live (!!!), Campus a Low Hum (<3) and Joanna Newsom (Oh God).

Despite all of this, my friends, my ever-overdue dissertation and the time-consuming internet, I had found the time to begin re-reading the Catcher the Rye. I love it so much I have a hard time not reading it aloud to everyone within earshot. Three days, eleven chapters, in I heard the news that Salinger had died at the very respectable age of 91. Maybe a solitary life is the secret (I don't think it actually is).

Apart from the strange coincidence of being part-way through re-reading his novel when I hear about him, he has been a somewhat large focus in previous moments in my life also, and in the days following his death.

I first read the Catcher in the Rye in the sleepy, colonial, and flooded, town of Luang Prabang in Laos. I had gone to the little book exchange shop and seen shelves and shelves stocked with absolute nonsense; fantasy, trashy crime and romances. I was dying, since I was also experiencing my first bout of serious isolation and desperately required a book. Then I saw a very old Penguin Classic spine (of the edition pictured above), realised it was Catcher in the Rye and almost opted out - I thought it would be some pretentious 'great' American novel; serious, self-indulgent and overly important. I bought it anyway, and spent a large part of the next three days sprawled on my perfect bed, in my bright riverside bedroom.

I really felt like Holden Caulfield had rescued me, in some way.

"The thing is, it's really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs — if yours are really good ones and theirs aren't. You think if they're intelligent and all, the other person, and have a good sense of humor, that they don't give a damn whose suitcases are better, but they do." - p. 115.

Notable mentions of Salinger in the last week: millions of facebook statuses, a hilarious Onion article, Joanna Newsom mourning him at her gig - in a sweet, silly but earnest way and an online debate with a lecturer about the character of Holden Caulfield.

Notable historical nonsense: walking in the snow in Munich, after going to a small English bookstore and buying "Nine Stories" (Salinger), "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (Capote) and "Understanding Empire" (Negri). Taking my own passport photo in a booth in an underground train station, dressed in my Hanoi velvet coat and feeling like my heart is burning a hole through it.

"Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry." - Mr Antolini. The Catcher in the Rye.

No comments: