Friday, January 29, 2010


I got a twitter from Sarah Crown today, literary editor at the Guardian, that she'd received copies of the new editions of Salinger's work, with new covers approved by him. He died on Wednesday aged 91, and though I'm sure his legacy was on his mind at some point during his last days, it seems inconceivable that a writer who had refused any kind of "new" version of his books during the last 40 years, suddenly showed a keen interest in cover design.

(NB. It seems like the new covers were already in the works, and you can see them here.)

Most writers have anonymity in life, and only in death find fame. The irony about Salinger's self-imposed exile is that when he was alive he managed to keep out of the public eye, but in death he is "public property." Up to a point, of course. Copyright law should keep him safe until 2080, so if anything does come out in the next few years, its his heirs' decision, I guess. Literary estates tend to jealously protect their writers' reputation.

Salinger wrote one novel, the massive selling "catcher in the rye", but his literary legacy is as equally served by the short stories he wrote about the Glass faimily. That novel was written in the voice of its protagonist Holden Caulfield and influenced many generations of teenagers. (And only one psychotic, Mark Chapman, to kill.) The stories...their fragmented half-history, say something similar, but also something else.

Its hard to conceive that such a slim selection followed by those years of utter silence, could be a literary legacy. But the proof is in the books. The work stands up, regardless.

So, J. D. Salinger, you left us finally. I'm sad to see you go. Rest in peace, for I doubt you'll retain your silence in this world.

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