Well, we hardly could have expected him to live forever, but I was still heartbroken to learn yesterday that reclusive author J. D. Salinger had died. I honestly believe myself to be one of his most dedicated disciples; while most of his readers outgrew him upon graduating from high school, I've held a candle for his characters well into my thirties.
Many of today's obituaries have remarked on how adolescents related to Holden Caulfield - the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye -- as the angry outsider; my own empathy with Holden (and Salinger's other darlings, the Glass children) had a somewhat gentler tenor. I found his alienation exquisite and comforting; it made my own teenage feelings of separateness feel hallowed and intelligent -- and promising. Although Holden probably grew up to be a hot mess, I felt that the fact that I, as a sixteen-year-old, shared his suspicions and black humor and irreverence would inevitably position me as the sort of adult artist I someday hoped to become.
As I've gotten older, I've also come to realize that the 1950s and 60s New York City portrayed by Salinger -- filled with smoky jazz clubs, jumbled classic-eight apartments, Vaudeville veterans, and "Little Shirley Beans" records -- epitomizes glamour to me. There is something about this world's intersection of academia, precociousness, and powder-room artifice that remains damn appealing to me -- as well as how this realm's inhabitants made a fetish out of urban childhood. I am drawn to present-day places and works of art that still radiate a Salinger-world feeling: the petting zoo in Central Park; the rickety dioramas of the Museum of Natural History; the tearooms and bar at the Carlyle hotel; Wes Anderson's film The Royal Tenenbaums.
Iconic fashion editor Diana Vreeland once said that one's time is when one is very young. Salinger's death has made me realize that -- while I indulge in all sorts of modern diversions and, statistically speaking, have a great deal of life ahead of me -- I really am a twentieth-century creature. Most of my sensibilities derive from the period he documented. It's no mistake that many of the other writers who've most influenced my writing - including Louise Fitzhugh, Truman Capote, and Kay Thompson -- also immortalized Salinger-era New York in their books.
One tries to be forward-looking, as the arrival of the future is one of life's few inevitabilities. That said, this weekend will most likely find me re-reading Franny and Zooey; I can't wait to ditch the Internet, my iPod, all of the prattle surrounding the newly-launched iPad (which will supposedly remake the very fabric of our society) - and breathe in the dust of the Glass family's living room again.
After all, it's my spiritual home.