Author J.D. Salinger, possibly the world’s most famous recluse, has died at age 91. Despite the fact that he only published one novel, a few novellas, and a few dozen short stories, Salinger was one of the most respected and revered American writers in history. His novel, 1951’s The Catcher in the Rye, is widely considered a masterpiece, the quintessential story of the isolation of adolescence. It’s one of the most-widely banned books in schools and libraries around the country, not only for the one instance of “Fuck”, but for its anti-establishment themes. It’s also highly overrated.
I’m fairly convinced that the primary reason for the cult of Salinger, with members ranging from hippie English professors to would-be assassins, is not the quality of his work, but rather his self-imposed exile. Salinger stopped publishing in 1965 and rarely granted interviews. The lack of information coming from the man himself led people to fill in their own meanings to his work, attributing depth and meaning where it may or may not be present. In my mind his greatest contribution to culture is nothing he wrote, but simply serving as the model for the character of Terence Mann in Field of Dreams (don’t believe he was the model? In the book Shoeless Joe, on which the movie is based, the reclusive author Ray meets is Salinger, not Terence Mann).