OFF THE GRID

JD Salinger, and His Way, Are Dead

Jan 29, 10 | 7:02 AM   byMichael Wolff
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A number of months ago, when he roused himself to file yet another law suit against another writer who came too close to him, I wrote a post about JD Salinger, which got no traffic.

Many optimistic literary types would surely like to believe that Salinger, who died yesterday, might logically hold a special place in the hearts of the young (if only because he’s still on a lot of assigned-reading lists). In truth, he SEO’d poorly.

Probably no novelists get traffic.

But Salinger, especially if you weren’t there in the pre-modern world when he was the coolest angsty thing going, might seem musty. His picture of disaffected youth actually seems innocent and tame these days—even reassuring. “Why does JD Salinger mean so much to you?” asks the brightest young thing in my office. “I started reading Catcher in the Rye once.”

And, too, Salinger, represents—to his detriment I believe—an almost pure example of old-world writing.

He’s the pay-wall model. Sitting up there in Cornish, New Hampshire, he really walled himself off. For a long time that remoteness and exclusivity made him more sought after. He created a cult following based on the premise that it was almost impossible to follow him. In fact, he composed an entire world whose characters were basically motivated by trying to keep people out of their world. Not to be damaged or spoiled or touched was the Salinger ideal. You really didn’t want to interact.

It is easy to forget what power writers had, what sense there was that they were unique and irreplaceable. The writer could actually choose not to write—and the world would actually wait.

Still, such great-man-itis, such insularity, such control, may have served literature (although, judging by his output, it may have cost literature, too), but it certainly didn’t help the people around him.

His daughter’s memoir is not the kind of memoir any father wants written about himself. The memoir of the 18-year-old girl, Joyce Maynard, a precocious writer of the kind he liked to write about, who he pursued and seduced, is even creepier. Curiously, he comes off in her memoir like an early version of an Internet stalker—a kinky chatroom pick-up gone horribly wrong.

And then there were the endless lawsuits. The least incursion on his intellectual property and he’d come down from the hill with his shotgun and lawyers. He should have been working; instead he was stewing, trying to protect what, it now turns out, nobody much wants.

That’s what we learn most of all from the life of Jerome David Salinger: It’s not worth it, cutting yourself off.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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