A recent article by author David Mamet mentioned J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the same breath and stated that “… generations of schoolchildren have had their interest in reading destroyed by The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye.”
Destroyed?! Wow. As a sophomore in high school, I found Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’ transformative! That book first said to me that you COULD color outside the lines. That you DIDN”T have to write in established forms to get your point across. That you could smack your reader with language and ideas that actual people encounter. It most certainly didn’t destroy my interest in reading or in writing! Salinger, like Fitzgerald before him and Hunter S. Thompson after, are the type of author that every generation needs to keep the pot stirred.
Mamet was focused on extolling female authors whose writing was outside of the perceived ‘feminine’ experience: war, politics, slavery, history and other topics often (he says) relegated to men. That’s all well and good, no one’s a more avid proponent of women authors than I am, but, like so much in this ‘us vs. them’ climate today, I don’t know that it’s necessary to dis the men while praising the women. To give him credit, Mamet began his piece noting that the endless dialogs about race, gender and other plights have become restrictive in modern writing, but then he proceeds to open one of those dialogs.
As much as I loved ‘Catcher’ and all of Salinger’s books, I wouldn’t re-read any of them now. I’ve never been one to watch movies or read books a second time; there are always so many others out there to be explored! A couple of years ago, there was some conversation going on which prompted me to make an exception and pull an old favorite off the shelf to clarify a point to myself. What a sad event.
I was probably in my late 20’s when I first read Jan de Hartog’s ‘The Peaceable Kingdom’ and felt it so deeply that it’s always been with me. In re-reading it, I was puzzled at why it had touched me and it felt like losing an old friend. While I won’t revisit any more of the old books on my shelf, I won’t get rid of them, either. They represent my evolution from callow youth to confused elder and I enjoy their presence as I would a warm hug from a valued mentor.
We’ve probably all read a book that impresses us so much that we quickly gather several more of that author’s books anticipating an orgy of satisfaction. And then they stink! That is SO disappointing. But the books and authors who open new horizons for us are among life’s true gifts and we can treasure what they gave us even as we grow beyond their message.