I Have a New Catcher in the Rye

BarrelFever_hires

It is with so much delight that I’m announcing David Sedaris’s Barrel Fever as my new Catcher in the Rye. This is great news for me, for you, and for my very, very few friends. Congratulations, everyone, we no longer have to suffer the Holden Caulfield affectation, a spectacular achievement in execution failure though it may have been. I’ve also just finished David Shields and Shane Salerno’s ‘Salinger’ and read with great interest the Assassination section, specifically Mark David Chapman’s, and I’m symbolically cowering in shame for being guilty of the same crime as him: overlooking the humanity behind Holden’s profanity-laden but sobering view of humankind. My misreading, though, is not as total as MDC’s. My love for Holden stemmed (yes, stemmed) from his unfamiliarity with his own person (yes, person) the loveliness of which I feel strapped itself to my very own unfamiliarity with mine. We didn’t/don’t know the world, our place in it, and that was lovely in a movie, literary setting kind of way, but in your late 20s, not knowing your place in the world is just infuriating. Yes, I’ve already proclaimed freedom from the clutches of JD Salinger’s penetrating worldview, but if Mariah Carey can proclaim emancipation three times, why shouldn’t I?

When JD Salinger died, I rushed to Fully Booked and bought a hardcover Catcher in the Rye because I’m not the kind who idolize properly and sensibly. I might be sick with a disease characterized by uncontrollable urges to spend on things as a sad gesture of undying admiration. I might be suffering from a kind of psychological disorder that does not let me rest until I physically own something of the worship-figure. The easiest, most obvious explanation would be that I am a goddamned fool.

With Barrel Fever, there can never be a misreading, a misinterpretation, not even a silly attempt to embody a persona of an esteemed literary character. Maybe one: Adolph Heck, named after history’s most vicious imposer of viciousness, in the collection’s funniest story, Barrel Fever. A mother naming her son Adolph is guaranteed a slayer of me. I love Adolph and his mother. I love that Adolph’s sisters are named Faith, Hope, Joy and Charity. I love how he mocks his friend who once was his closest ally in mocking the mockable but who now has clung to nice persons.

Barrel Fever has become essential reading, a warder of the blues, a pair of shades in a dessert storm, a pair of truly dependable earbuds for Metro Manila life, a pair of balls in your ballsless days, etc. A Barrel Fever is a best friend.

Each reading of Barrel Fever for me is fresh. Sometimes I want to live in it and lap up the freshness.

If one day you find yourself in the pages of a Barrel Fever-like publication authored by myself, and you feel like pressing charges for character defamation because you Feel like I have cruelly borrowed and repackaged one of your least attractive characteristics and turned it into a bestseller, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. If you decide to press charges, sue me for libel, you will find me in court carrying a tattered copy of Barrel Fever, with the words, ‘This is my statement!’ scribbled beside blurbs that proclaim it as ‘breathtakingly irreverent’. ‘This is my statement!’ — the very words written in Mark David Chapman’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, a piece of woeful evidence that was brought to court for the trial of the crime of gunning down one of the world’s most famous Beatle, 1/4 of Mariah Carey’s Billboard Hot 100 nemesis, John Lennon. I do not ever wish to reach the same level of insanity but there is a need for me to make friends with things whose reason for existing is to supply me with joy.

I may have already confessed an attachment for this Sedaris book, and even though the retelling of this attachment seems to go against what Adolph Heck feels about saying the same thing twice: ‘…nothing gets on my nerves more than someone repeating the same phrase twice. I think it’s something people have picked up from television, this emotional stutter. Rather than say something interesting once, they repeat a cliche twice and hope for the same effect,’ I feel it’s a necessary retelling. This is my statement!

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. They really do.

-Holden Caulfield

JD Salinger A Life: A Rambling

I’ve read the latest, and probably best, JD Salinger biography and this is the resulting vomitty-looking post whereupon I foist upon you my long, winding, thoughtful thoughts on it, rambling as I do at length and, in a manner not unlike how Buddy Glass would go about his idol of all time, the great Seymour, that is, with reverence and with great potential to annoy:

‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

-Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Incidentally, JD Salinger biographer Kenneth Slawenski had to go through the sort of David Copperfield kind of crap that Holden resents going into since that stuff is supposed to be boring and personal. But since this is a biography, it is but proper to go through a certain variety of David Copperfield kind of crap. It is thankfully a crapless biography, one that is thoroughly respectful to a man who, had he lived, would have condemned the book anyway. JD Salinger, A Life is a straightforward, undecorated and extremely well researched telling of the life of JD Salinger, a man so intent on privacy, attempts at making a book about his life after he has died seemed the most sensible thing to do, something only a fan would have done.

JD Salinger at War

I don’t know how much of a writer’s life goes into his works but with JD Salinger, a war veteran who got into the thickest of WW2 situation stickiness, a strong inclination to write about such experience seemed the most natural thing to do, except he chose not to. Not much of his war experiences would be evident in his works, since, maybe, JD is not corny like that. He refuses ‘to prostitute’ his wartime experience into bestsellerdom as is expected of probably most writers. He would in fact go on to write more the Glasses than relive the war by creating a war novel. Or I could also be stupid to suggest that, in the first place, a war vet writing a war novel, I don’t know.

He chose to relive the war through the eyes of a Prep School snob whose demeanor is something you could mistake for a war vet’s. How else to explain that surface disgust for phoniness? Judging from the horrific war experience, told here in great detail, it wouldn’t be so incontinent to assume that Holden Caulfield’s widely perceived cynicism was birthed by its creator’s war experience. On a same note, the fact that JDS lived to write and finish The Catcher in the Rye is proof of that novel’s subtext of hope. Holden may be snotty but he likes his sister a lot, and although that doesn’t really redeem his snottitude, that he can still find beauty and hope in things, albeit in a tiny thing that is his sister, suggests there is more to the book than meets the eye.

It is quite telling that out of all his characters, it is Seymour and Buddy Glass he chose to do several volumes of stories on, instead of the far more popular Holden. Seymour/Buddy Glass, I hate to admit, are at times, insufferable, which is probably the desired effect of their creator. But just probably! I feel like Seymour – An Introduction, more than anything, is a vehicle through which JD felt the need to freely and unabashedly practice self-indulgence. It’s like he didn’t care if Seymour, or Buddy the narrator, gets on the nerves of the readers, for their seeming sacredness and preciousness, something he wouldn’t do to Saint Holden.

Slawenski occasionally dispenses interpretations and observations of Salinger works, as expected, but most are relatively fresh insights such as the overlooked fact of Holden never correcting his interpretation of the song/lyric ‘Comin through the rye’, which is pregnant with significance. And these insights come as pleasant surprises, as told by someone whose intent and tone is consistently non-bragging. He FYIs sparsely and modestly.

‘JD Salinger was always concerned about how he was perceived. The opinions of others mattered a great deal to him. For this reason, his personal and professional correspondence was consistently guarded and geared to the ear of the intended reader. Above all else, he dreaded being considered smug, a frequent accusation throughout his youth and army years. As an adult, smugness became the most affronting of labels, and he went to great lengths to avoid being perceived as vain. Salinger possessed an inherent conceit that had been fostered by his adoring mother during childhood and fed by his persistent ambition later in life; and though pride and high self-esteem are feelings common to authors, for Salinger, to be considered arrogant struck and especially raw nerve.’

Which is probably why the idea of his own biography irked him a lot. He was very reclusive in case it ever escaped public knowledge. Yet there exist these plentiful attempts at documenting his life, some of which paint him as arrogant and egoistic. But Kenneth Slawenski, a Salinger fan of the noblest kind, makes the kind of merciful, non-pandering account, which is probably of no help, as it is JD Salinger, a writer who despises the idea of attention-grabbing book covers and author profiles. Slawenski makes it look like JD’s desire for privacy is not borne out of arrogance (but maybe it does, a little), but out of necessity.

Publishers and publicists held no power against the will of the iron-fisted writer. Of all the people he had had to deal with, it is the poor Hamish Hamilton, his British publisher, that one is likely to feel sorry for, being a person who seemed to understand Salinger the most but who ‘ve ended up suffering the brunt of JD Salinger’s iron will the most. But the iron will is not without its gains. Hamilton, who thought of naming what is now known as Nine Stories, was adamant to call the collection something other than the super stern, Nine Stories. Averse to corniness, JD Salinger was intent to call his collection of nine stories as anything but Nine Stories but gives in to Hamilton’s plea to call it something marketable, undoubtedly an act of rare charity, publishing matters-wise. But the bending of the will is not to last long as is the friendship with the British publisher, one of the many friendships JD was to lose.

JD really likes his privacy.

About his privacy, JD was really, really serious about it. Most people would find this staunch devotion to attaining privacy the most ridiculous/pretentious thing ever, but Slawenski demonstrates in no vague manner, just how vital maintenance of privacy was to Salinger.

Doing away with sensationalist conclusions and inferences, Slawenski relates well documented events such as the infamous Shirley Blaine incident and makes swift observations about how such an incident could have hurt an enormously private man as to cut ties with those whom he otherwise treated as friends. The rest he tells about plainly to the point of bitin.

One of the most intriguing aspects of his life, the women, is brief too. Slawenski tells it as it is: JDS seemingly had excellent taste in noticeably youthful women but these remarkable, almost impressive collection of girls is rather unfortunate a predilection. Looking at and blowing kisses at you Joyce Maynard. If one is looking for a juicy account of The JD Salinger Women, disappointment is to be had.

‘He had too much respect for readers to remove their personal analysis.’

Which is why it’s okay to occasionally misread, misinterpret JD Salinger works because it’s worth going back to, worth revisiting, which is what I would do, reread the stories and even though the reread might not result to eureka moments, there is at least another round of treat for the senses.

For a time at least, Salinger may have considered himself an American prophet, a voice crying in the urban wilderness. Today he is remembered for the briefness of his witness, still reprimanded for his refusal to continue on, as if he owed more to the world than he had already given. Somehow, in a way nearly as mystical as his stories’ gentle epiphanies, the passage of time may reveal that J.D. Salinger fulfilled his duty as author and perhaps even his calling as prophet long ago. The remaining obligation lies with us. In this way, Salinger’s story continues on, passed from author to reader for completion. By examining the life of J.D. Salinger, with all its sadness and imperfections, together with the messages delivered through his writings, we are charged with the reevaluation of our own lives, an assessment of our own connections, and the weighing of our own integrity.

JD Salinger was respectful of his readers. What he seemed to hate though is the idea of his works being read majorly for academic purpose, or so it would seem according to Franny and Buddy Glass. I don’t know what my reasons are for still reading some JDS. Reasons might be suspect, might be the height of literary self-education dubiousness, but I just really, really like his sentences.

The Slaying of Jerry Salinger

At Home in the World

It’s not as if JD Salinger has any need for defenders but when I saw some of the praises showered upon Joyce Maynard’s memoir At Home in the World, it was hard not to feel defensive and sorry for him because you just know she would slay him. And slay him she did. Prior to reading this, I’ve read things about her from what can easily be assumed as one of the most despised book JD Salinger had ever known, If You Really Want to Hear About It, but probably next only to the UK-only published Ian Hamilton biography in Salinger’s list of hate lit. It seems unnecessary to loathe the book in full force, like a one-man groupie because I’m sure that that’s been done before and at a time when loathing such memoir and all that it represents, basically the privacy of JD Salinger, was more relevant. But all things JD Salinger can never be irrelevant or untimely to me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown weary of poor, sad writers who had tough relationships with their mommy and daddy that I was not as moved by Maynard’s parental plight. She’s even lucky she had interesting, intelligent and nice enough parents. Nice enough but periodically strange. The only thing that separates the writery poor kid with the alcoholic/weird parents from the average, nonwritery kid with the alcoholic/weird parents is that the nonwriting kid does not have the skills or nerve to write about the folks, as to let the world know about daddy’s drinking (Hello, Augusten Burroughs), with which to eventually get rich off of. I’m sure that someone out there is having a difficult life with his strange parents, not that having strange, alcoholic parents is something that is undeserving of sympathy, but we will never hear about that kid’s parents while the writing types have  the advantage of being read which for a writer is all that matters anyway. All of which would have been fine, sure thing, write about your mom and dad, Joyce Maynard, throw in some interesting tidbits about your eating habits too while you’re at it, but what it’s all really about is about the man she once fondly called Jerry, a man whose book some fondly call their bible.

What happened was she wrote for the New York Times Magazine some time in the 70s, her picture was in the front page, JD Salinger happened to have a copy, found her interesting and pretty and maybe even fuckable (he was so wrong) so he sends her a letter which began their months-long correspondence and she was 18 at the time and would jump at the first opportunity to make out with the first person who would get her teen angsty agony, and so she did, left everything behind, lived with a super recluse, tried to make a 30-year gapped relationship work, tried to have sex and failed. Pretty much an ordinary 18 year old-50 year old love story except with JD Salinger.

But she won me over. I loved that she didn’t look back on her NY Times piece and thought what a precious young thing she was, loved that she saw in her own writing, one that’s been published in the New York Times no less, a ‘nearly insufferable tone of presumptuousness’. So while I was busy scoffing at her telling of her ‘I’m a different, special girl’ story that she once proudly lugged around in her prestige-yearning, Ivy League university-going adolescent heart, it was she who would speak these scathing impressions of herself and with such uncensoring and sincerely self-deprecating quality.

As for the initial loathe from thinking JD Salinger will get major exploitation time, it turns out to be very much a case of stating and feeling or thinking the obvious. If you’ve built your fame around a work of art that is as indifference-proof as The Catcher in the Rye and decided to shut the world out whether directly or indirectly as a result of that very fame, you will never escape things like this.

I have no doubt that JD Salinger himself has read this memoir because if there’s one thing he wouldn’t do it is to fake unawareness over things he finds hideous, despicable and terrible, all of which mean practically the same thing, all of which he has a good eye on. Maynard herself attests to the fact that Salinger follows the things he finds loathsome more closely than you would have supposed, the very sentiment Holden articulates when our boy says of a movie he severely disliked, ‘so putrid you can’t take your eyes off it’.

Jerry Salinger’s life is hardly the stuff of great drama. It is not compelling enough to warrant the sort of fascination that most people who are merely into the reclusive aspect of his popularity hold over it, his life. He’s into boring stuff like old movies, old sitcoms and homeopathy. And him being into homeopathy and healthy living in general is a good thing. Good thing too that he had no heart condition because it would have killed him to pore through this. But make no mistake, this memoir lays more insight than the most earnest biographer could ever hope to make.

JD Salinger, who would not allow biographers permission to publish his precious letters, who would not allow journalists access to his home for interviews, who would not grant fans acknowledgment, who would rather die than let even the tiniest bit of information about any aspect of his life leak into public knowledge, and not for just kicks too, not just to generate intrigue you can be sure (I’m sure), had inadvertently, by associating with and romancing a fellow writer, let the world know, or at least those who care to know, something as dismal and embarrassing as his failure to be a proper lover to an 18 year old virgin. You have to feel sorry for the man because unlike him who wouldn’t leak anything to the public, not even his writing which he truly believes is for him and him alone but which the public, again, just those who care to consume him, believes is also theirs, the people who’ve had the littlest to do with him have let loose to the world their JD Salinger moment. None, I would imagine, that could compare to the one made by this one time lover.

These Goddam Books

I’ve always believed that The Catcher in the Rye is the one book that I will take to my coffin, to the grave, six feet below earth, for when they finally bury me because I adore every word printed on that skimpy looking book. At some point, I stopped rereading Catcher in the Rye  not because I stopped liking it (I seemed to have really developed a relationship with it already as my affections for it swing back and forth between liking it and loving it) but because maybe, I feel like I’m digging much into it, and as the John Lennon homicide and the Jake Gyllenhaal character in The Good Girl would tell you, it’s not very good.

And so I’ve been rereading that other Salinger book. Franny & Zooey largely diverts my attention away from myself and onto something else, specifically to my sister who I wanted so much to be Franny-like. I don’t know when exactly I started being so identifyey with book characters but I rue the day it began. In my warped little mind, I’m Zooey and little sister is Franny, minus the heated and very literary exchange or the looks. I’d hate to elaborate because I’d hate to one day find out that she’s found out about me telling these, but if you’re dying to know, the short of it is that I want her to stay in school but that she prefers Jesus over anything else now. It’s a mismatch, my perceived parallels, but there’s that relevance I’m so convinced about and I can’t get rid of them.

Franny & Zooey is something I can’t not read every once in a while because if I don’t feel like reading anything but feel like I have to, it’s the one that I instantly think of because it’s so light and clean-looking. If you’re not careful with this book and you think you get the meaning of a certain passage that you instantly decide you admire for whatever reason, have a good retraction ready because somebody might point out that Franny is raging against something more than insufferable English Department professors and boyfriends who substitute an A-grade thesis for penis.

I read Catcher in the Rye in college and it was the perfect time to read it because college is the time when, for no particular reason, your own college feels like Pencey Prep and your college friend is a dead ringer for Ackley, attributes which should have been lost on me because I didn’t hate Dapitan and I had a nice, unannoying male friend. Contrary to oft-quoted critical literary claims, Holden Caulfield has redeeming values. He loves his sister Phoebe, the precocious innocent little girl, the causer of some of the book’s more emotionally poignant parts. Cringe all we want, but Holden then was just so alive for me. Back in that age in college, I thought I really knew what he was talking about even though I really didn’t. And if I had been more literal-minded then, I would have dropped the business subjects, maybe fail them all in purpose, ace just literature and award myself for truly embodying what it takes to be Holden Caulfield. But I could not have done so. I passed Economics and Accounting and everything went fine. I got a job I’m okay with (at least now), and I can’t imagine not having those medical benefits, paid vacation leaves, the christmas hampers and the cozy desk and the swivel chair. The benefits are, as Queen of the Phonies Sally Hayes would tell you, just marvelous. They’re grand.

Catcher in the Rye was important to me as an Impressionable College Boy, a stature that roughly translates to a phase of praising to high heavens pieces of literature that one happens to stumble into that strike a chord. And I never thought that there would come a day when I’d be heavily dramatizing that, what once was an insufferable fanaticism to Holden Caulfield itself, just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I’m thinking that maybe I could not have survived this life, that’s so precious and so full of wonderful, amazing things according to most people who are not phonies, had I continued devouring Catcher in the Rye. In the first place I would have surely been accused of affecting an aura of detachment and all the corny things that goes with it and I could not have tolerated that. So after maybe reading it 57 times,  I realize that it’s probably a good thing that my attention’s been diverted away from that book. I can’t forever be reading it. I’m Pinoy and I can’t always be using 50s slang, much less American teenage slang and be forever deluded that I’m getting away with that kind of language and angst. It will get corny and phony. For sure, I will read it again and again but just not as much. I will however forever adore JD Salinger and all the meanings he would not give in this lifetime or the next.