Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger

We're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so I'll just say I'm thankful I managed to escape any English teacher intent on inflicting Catcher on the Rye on her students. But there's no denying the impact of J.D. Salinger's semi-autobiographical novel, which has sold 60 million copies, on the American consciousness in the first two decades after its publication. Publishers expect a surge in new sales after his death Wednesday at 91.

Soon after the novel was published in 1951, Salinger went into seclusion, where he remained the rest of his life. He never published another novel, although he did publish a collection of short stories.

Catcher was hailed for its authenticity, spawning many imitations. It is anything but. The novel is thick with the pretentious tone that marked too many novels of the mid 20th century.

You can decide for yourself. Here are some popular quotes from Catcher (note the frequent use of the first person pronoun — 20 times in 10 quotes):

"I'm sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect."

"Grand. There's a word I really hate. It's a phony. I could puke every time I hear it."

“It was a very stupid thing to do, I'll admit, but I hardly didn't even know I was doing it.”

“I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot.”

“I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.”

“I'm sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”

“I don't exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.”

“I'm just going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases and all, don't they?”

Friday, January 22, 2010


Am I the only person in America who doesn't care who is the Tonight Show host? How does the breathless drama of Leno's and Conan's respective time slots get so much press day after day? With Haiti and the Massachusetts election and so many other real news events, how does this keep getting headlines? Many Facebook friends are weighing in as if it matters. I don't get it.

But speaking of headlines, I confess to being a fan of Leno's weekly feature with that title. Here are a few favorites, forwarded by a reader, followed by my comments (I can't vouch for their authenticity — the headlines, I mean, not the comments):

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says (that's why they get the big bucks)

Miners Refuse to Work after Death (fine, then they won't get paid)

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant (you'll never know until you try it)

War Dims Hope for Peace (and that headline dims hope for journalism's future)

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures (ah, that explains it)

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges (paid for with stimulus cash?)

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks (they taste like chicken)

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half (now that's an effective stay-in-school program)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No toaster

The Poe toaster was a no-show.

Since 1949, a mysterious visitor in a dark cloak has left three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac at the Maryland grave of Edgar Allen Poe on the author's birthday, Jan. 19. A group of Poe fans gathered this year, as they do every year, to read selections from Poe's works while awaiting the mysterious visitor, who has never been identified. It is not known whether the toaster is the same person every year.

The tradition started in 1949, marking the centennial of Poe's death in 1849, and it lasted until last year, the bicentennial of Poe's birth in 1809.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Writers' resolutions

Here are some writer's resolutions I invite you adopt for the no-longer brand new year:

1. Write. Daily. Schedule it. Two hours is better than one because it takes a while to get into the flow, but one hour is better than none.
2. Read. Good writing will inspire you, but even bad writing has a place — it leaves you thinking, I can write better than this. The ordinariness of most any published work can take the mystique out of writing. That's a good thing if that mystique is an obstacle to getting started.
3. Turn off the TV. It robs creative energy.
4. Walk. A brisk walk outdoors stirs creative energy.
5. Nap. Especially if you stall out. Your thinking will be clearer after a brief rest.
6. Start. Don't let a late start turn into a don't start. Yeah, so it's already halfway through January — so what?