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Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

One of the giants of American literature, J.D. Salinger, died this week, on Jan. 27, of natural causes at age 91 at his home in New Hampshire.

It goes without saying that his most famous novel, "Catcher in the Rye" needs no introduction. The classic American novel of teen angst and alienation, embodied in the character of Holden Caulfield, has been required reading in most high schools for decades, and still manages to sell an average of 250,000 copies each year since its publication in 1951.
The emotional connection that young people feel with Holden Caulfield is universal; teens connected with the
novel from day one, still do today and will probably continue to do so until teens cease to exist, but many scholars have noted that the novel was also important to its particular time in American history. The feelings of emotional frustration expressed by Caulfield coincide with the same emotional elements of "teen rebellion" that first surfaced in the early 1950's and signaled the beginning of the Beatnik era, which then lead to the socially powerful youth movement of the hippie era of the late '60's and early '70's.
Salinger was also known for his famous reclusivity, completely shunning any publicity after the 1970's, even pursuing legal action against anyone who attempted to write about him, including Joyce Maynard, a former lover, and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. Many Hollywood giants, including Samuel Goldwyn, Billy Wilder, Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg, have tried to obtain the film rights to the novel, and Jerry Lewis wanted for many years to play the character of Holden Caulfield, but Salinger rejected all offers. It will be interesting to see how many biographies about Salinger now emerge and if a movie adaptation is ever attempted.

But regardless of the attempts to tell the story of Salinger or to put Holden Caulfield on the silver screen, his place in literature is secure. After an early rejection by literary scholars, "Catcher in the Rye" is now widely regarded as one of the great, American, literary masterpieces.

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