The world is not perfect. Half of the testicle fruits I bought at the market yesterday at ten to the pound were rotten, their fatty green flesh interlaced with twines of foul tarnish, though the fruits looked good from the outside; winter is still not over; and The New Yorker rejected The Catcher in the Rye when it was offered a chance to publish excerpts.
The New Yorker's negative decision didn't hurt sales of the book much. About 250,000 copies are still sold every year, 55 years after its first publication, enough to afford the author, J.D. Salinger, a life free from financial worry and out of everyone's way in the boonies of New Hampshire. He never had to sell any written words again, though he did for a while. In 1965 he stopped. By his own admission, though, he continued to write, furiously, hundreds of pages, in draining all-nighters. This was for his own entertainment and for no one else to behold, enjoy or interpret.
Last Wednesday, J.D. Salinger died, at 91 and after decades of seclusion and silence. A master of the English language and a brilliant storyteller has left. The reason that his death didn't touch me as much as John Updike's the exact same day one year earlier is that I haven't read any of his stories and haven't developed a feeling of closeness and understanding.
I know Salinger only for his main work, the book that made him famous all over the world, and for the longest time I lived under the illusion that he hadn't published anything else at all. Not that it would have mattered – The Catcher is brilliant – but Salinger was a great writer before that book. He published a good two dozen stories in prestigious magazines before sending Holden Caulfield off onto his three-day odyssey through New York City. (The New Yorker published thirteen of his stories over the years. Read them online if you're fortunate enough to have a subscription.)
Unless I manage to lay my hands on a Complete New Yorker DVD set, I will not read Salinger's earlier stories. Nevertheless, I might yet get to appreciate him more widely. With some luck, the clearing out of the attic in the farm house in New Hampshire might produce trunks and cabinets stuffed with paper. Some publisher might figure out which sheets to staple together, and books might soon hit the shelves. That would be no consolation for the loss, but a fitting conclusion of the story of his life.