Displaying articles for: January 2010

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010)

Though he long kept resolutely out of the public eye, J.D. Salinger has not been long out of the mind of many readers. His death at 91 has lit up the online world of literary blogs and Twitter feeds with quotations, tributes, and a collective attempt to mark what felt like the epochal passing of the author of The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. We asked some Barnes & Noble Review contributors to share their thoughts about Salinger, and their recollections of reading the works that were at one point a crucial moment in any young book-lover's life. We're posting them below, as they come in. And we welcome yours, as well, in the comments.


As with so many of the books I encountered as a teenager, it was my mother who suggested I read The Catcher on the Rye.  In retrospect, I'm not completely sure what she was thinking, but to my 14-year-old self, Holden Caulfield was a sage, the patron saint of phony-outers, and hilarious to boot.  (Who knew literature could be funny?)  I came back to the book in my 30s, wondering what had drawn killers like Mark Chapman and Robert Bardo to it, and then, of course, I saw how disturbed, how damaged Holden really was, and that I was wrong in my earlier assessments - he was the patron saint of misfits and outcasts.  I have no idea which Holden I will encounter when I next return to him, but I suspect he will continue to surprise me.
-Mark Sarvas


I first read Salinger as an American teenager growing up in London, where Nine Stories  was published with the title For Esmé With Love and Squalor, which, after “Bananafish,” was my favorite story in the collection.  Of course I identified with his characters’ alienation, but what I really responded to—and still do—were the ah-ha moments when I realized how much a skilled writer could say obliquely—about phonies, about the toll of military service, about love and squalor.

-Heller McAlpin



In an era where authorial relevance is increasingly measured by Facebook friends and Twitter followers, Salinger's willful, willed withdrawal reminds us of the reasons we were drawn to him in the first place.

Adolescent angst has never had a voice so clean, so desperately welcome, so surprising to be lofted from the adult side of the hostile border.  Salinger has become fashionable to mock - a fate that inevitably comes to strong voices that are convenient targets of easy parody.  But I don't think we'd have the contemporary hipster confidence of people like Wes Anderson, Dave Eggers and Benjamin Kunkel without the creation of the post-war adolescence that Salinger almost singlehandedly bodied forth.  And that he lived; his reclusivity was the ultimate adolescent statement (and fantasy) of going to your room, shutting the door, and never coming out.

-Adam Hanft



Yes, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey had a seismic effect on what I might now laughingly call my adolescent sensibility. An oxymoron, if ever there was one. But my son and his friends, in their adolescence, in the nineties, were entirely unaffected by Catcher. Maybe because it had become required reading. Nothing more toxic to Rebellious Youth than required reading. Now, de morituri nil nisi bonum and all, but what interests me to this day is the possible datedness of all coming-of-age-angst-ridden "classics." Maybe each generation has to have its own.  Maybe the canonization of a book automatically reduces its outsider status.

In any case, what didn't differ, literarily--in the same kind of category, perhaps--between me and young Will Menaker is our response to Catch-22. We both love it to this day and quote from it from time to time. In fact, when he read it, he said he put it down often--"because I never wanted it to end." Now that's the highest praise of all.


 Someone tell me why that might be--the difference between Holden and Yossarian.

-Daniel Menaker





Post-Post-Colonial Literature in Jaipur

History, Marx said, returns as farce. And colonialism -- at least in Jaipur -- returns as festival.

The Jaipur Literary Festival kicked off this week; after just five years this annual event has become a must-attend celebration of the vibrant, noisy, rowdy literary landscape of India and South Asia.

Around 30,000 people will show up, along with 200 authors. It’s Davos meets Burning Man meets Sundance meets celebrity book-signings.

Jaipur, it can be argued, was made possible by the post-post-colonial literary movement. The first wave of writers who emerged after independence responded imaginatively to the British occupation; the current generation has been freed from that mechanical obligation and can view the past, present, and future afresh.

Both generations provide an immense dazzlement of reading riches, characterized by an earthy vibrancy and imaginative courage that exceeds the pallid contemporary output of the Brits, their ex-imperializers, and creates a post-Wildean aphorism: writing well is the best revenge.

In that spirit, we’ve put together a quick list of some stunning illuminations that will get you started on your own private festival. Read more...

Peake in the Attic?

Lovers of Mervyn Peake's unique fantasy trilogy Gormenghast are notoriously touchy, protective and defensive about this literary treasure. First, the series exists sadly only in a damaged state, its third volume not completed properly due to the author’s degeneration from Parkinson’s. Second, as the “other” seminal fantasy trilogy from mid-twentieth century, Peake’s masterpiece has always played the underdog to Tolkien’s. Fans and critics are prone to rhapsodize about what commercial fantasy fiction might look like nowadays, if only Peake had triumphed over his Inkling rival. Read more...

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010)

According to his U.K. publisher, Robert B. Parker, the beloved mystery author, has died, "just sitting at his desk." The creator of the long-running Spenser private eye series (among other bestselling mysteries), Parker kicked off his career as a novelist after completing a 1970 dissertation on the works of the writers who proved to be his literary forbears -- Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald. Sarah Weinman has more at her blog. Read more...

Newbery and Caldecott Medalists: Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney

Our dedicated children's books correspondent Lisa Von Drasek sends word from Boston on the Newbery, Caldecott and other annual awards in children's literature from the American Library Association. The John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature goes to Rebecca Stead for When You Reach Me, while the Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children goes to The Lion & the Mouse, illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney. Lisa praised The Lion & the Mouse, in back in August, writing that its "purely visual storytelling" allows for a universal appreciation of Aesop's enduring fable. The ALA has a full rundown of the winners and other honorees, here.


Short Film "Trailer" for Boyle's The Women

Sometimes the concept of a "book trailer" -- a short film meant to encapsulate a book and hence entice readers -- seems a little hard to grasp. But done rightly, as in Jamieson Fry's beautiful trailer for T.C. Boyle's novel The Women, the results can be galvanizing. Read more...


Reading Zachary Mason's forthcoming The Lost Books of the Odyssey, I've been in danger of missing my subway stop. The book is hard to characterize; it's a collection of short pieces -- some of them really short -- which reimagine and retell parts of the Iliad, or the Odyssey, or imaginary scenes and episodes in between the actions in those two epics. Funny, spooky, action-packed, philosophical -- the mood keeps shifting, and you keep wanting to read just one more. I wouldn't want to spoil any of its pleasures -- part of the niftiness of the book is figuring out, as you read, what aspect of the original is being turned on its head. But look out for the story in which one of the characters in the Odyssey is neatly transformed, by the end, into Homer himself. Read more...

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).