The Death of J. D. Salinger

I was slightly stunned to see the news of J. D. Salinger’s death. I haven’t read him in decades, but he once meant a great deal to me. It wasn’t so much The Catcher in the Rye that moved me, but his book Nine Stories. When I was in high school, my dream was to become a novelist, and I studied his craftsmanship very carefully. I loved the subtle inner harmonies. Even his use of commas was something to pay close attention to. It seems futile to employ that level of literary craft nowadays. I did a wee bit of it in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, but no one has ever noticed a single instance. If Salinger was writing during his years of seclusion, and if they publish any of it, I’ll be sure to check it out. I still love good writing. It’s a dying art, though. Few writers or readers have enough patience. Salinger also served as my introduction to Zen and Taoism. At the time, I thought they were weird affectations for a Westerner; but they’ve ended up meaning everything to me.

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5 Responses to “The Death of J. D. Salinger”

  1. Margaret Says:

    “It seems futile to employ that level of literary craft nowadays.” No!
    It’s the steady, exacting effort that has value, because it makes you strong and your work rich in accomplishment. How others respond to it is something separate. And just because they’ve said nothing doesn’t mean they didn’t notice.

    • markbittner Says:

      It often seems futile, yes, but I didn’t mean that I won’t put that kind of effort into the writing.

  2. del Says:

    Hi, Mark.

    After I read “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” I was intrigued by Zen and Tao and especially your take on them and how humans relate to non-human animals and our responsibilities towards them. The concept of the waterfall and the myriad droplets you wrote about was just beautiful. I wanted to learn more but soon discovered that I didn’t know where to start: I was overwhelmed by the number of titles in the eastern religion section at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore and on Amazon. Would you care to recommend a good introductory book?

    [And sorry about posting a non-Salinger related comment on this thread]

    • markbittner Says:

      The waterfall and the myriad droplets story comes from a book by Shunryu Suzuki, or Suzuki Roshi, called Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, and it’s excellent. I also recommend his other two books, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness and Not Always So. One thing to keep in mind is that Suzuki didn’t actually write these books. They are transcriptions of his talks, which were then edited by his students. There is another man, D. T. Suzuki, who is an entirely different guy. D. T. was a Japanese scholar of Zen; Suzuki Roshi was a teacher. Suzuki Roshi is not easy to understand. You have to gain some familiarity with his work before it starts to make sense.

      For Taoism, there is, of course, the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. There are dozens and dozens of translations of this book. Some should definitely be avoided. But I’m not a scholar. I don’t read every translation that comes out and then form some opinion. I have a few preferences that I’ve stumbled upon. My favorite is by Richard Wilhelm. The translation by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo is gaining favor with me. I also like the translations by Red Pine and Witter Bynner. This is one work where it definitely helps to have several different translations.

      I also recommend the I Ching or Book of Changes—not as a fortune telling device, but as a book of wisdom. As far as I’m concerned, though, the only translation worth owning is the Wilhelm/Baynes version.

      Finally, I recommend anything that Red Pine (aka Bill Porter) has translated. He’s a real gem. He sticks to works that deserve to be translated, and unlike many contemporary translators, he doesn’t take a pop, post-modern, or merely scholarly approach. He’s closer to the heart of the works he translates. I especially like his rendering of The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain.

  3. del Says:

    Thanks, Mark. I’ll check those out. They sound like just what I was looking for.

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