J.D. Salinger: Nine Stories

I found Nine Stories as a paperback in an used bookstore in Copenhagen. Published by Bantam Books and printed in 1964, the book is beautifully designed and typeset. Though it costed more than I’m usually willing to pay for a book readily available in the library, I couldn’t resist.

(Oh, and if you’re wondering why I’m writing about where I got the book and how it looks, it’s because this isn’t a review, it’s about my experience of reading the book.)

My favorite thing about Salinger is how he always tells the story of a turning point a character’s life—but without making the turning point obvious. There is the sensation of something having happened, but that is all. Then the story ends, always—and perfectly—smack bang against a wall.

I am not a great fan of short stories. Like all readers with foreheads crinkled in concentration (or from consternation, take your pick), I attribute this dislike to an inherent shortcoming in myself. Perhaps I lack the literary maturity to appreciate short stories; perhaps I am simply too dense to get them. Whatever the reason, I do, however, feel slight pangs of guilt for what I’m about to say. After all, no one forced me to read the stories one after another, or to read them all at all.

Nevertheless. What I didn’t like about Nine Stories was—and I never thought I’d say this—its wordiness.

While Salinger’s language is nimble and elegant, it is also heavy and opaque. Deep into the second to last story of the book, De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period, I was very tired with the the voice of the ever-present, ever-verbose narrator. Where three words would have done, 63 are used.

My annoyance was a revelation to me.

I wouldn’t even be complaining about the wordiness if it hadn’t caused me to truly notice the importance of writing consisely and to the point. (Not like I’m writing this, now. This is me, expunging the effects of Salinger on the voice in my ear and the rhythm of my plunging fingers.)

If this revelation is a thing I can take to heart from reading Nine Stories, and keep it there, I dare proclaim that the book will be the most valuable one I’ve ever read. However, if its cadence continues to ring and chime in my own easily influenced voice, it could very well lead to my downfall as a writer of any purpose.

I may be exaggerating, of course. It’s still too close to tell.

Onto Salinger himself

Living, yet not publishing, J.D. Salinger is already spoken of in past tense. His legend, in itself, attracts me.

Salon’s review of Salinger’s daughter’s biography combines her memories with the literary analysis of Mary McCarthy and gives a good look at a man held captive by his own reflection.

Here’s a great short bio. An here’s another one in a rather odd but informative FAQ format.

And one more aside

No one I know has liked Catcher in the Rye the first time they read it. This is strange, maybe even telling, for a book that so captured the hearts of previous generations.