Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My most treasured possession

Many many years ago, my favorite and most influential English professor gave me a bootleg copy of J.D. Salinger's Uncollected Short Stories with the injunction to keep it safe. Somehow, through the last 36 years, 26 moves and half-dozen thieving roommates, light-fingered boyfriends and assorted "guests," I've managed to do just that. But then, books are the bricks in my safest walls, and Salinger's slender few are at the cornerstones.

It used to be that I read one of his books every year, possibly to maintain ties to my undergraduate years before the onus of living up to early promise became an onus and was still a kind of guarantee. In graduate school, I grabbed the opportunity to teach Franny and Zooey, doing so with a pleasure mixed with nostalgia for the semester I'd read it first and an amused understanding of the frustrations experienced by my old professor. Some students just didn't get it. Or like it. How could that be?

I'm not a Salinger scholar. I studied British Literature, not American. I read Salinger in order to steal his way of describing a person and a moment. For the rush of recognition whenever he honed in on an image of, say, Frannie's fingers trembling, the circle of light on the white tablecloth, the self-important clearing of Lane's throat. For the inclusive love I wished were mine in that Upper-West side apartment occupied by the Glass family.

When I feel the tears come, they're not for the famous writer/recluse, but for myself and the realization that I no longer know or am close to the girl I was when I read those books as if they were my Bible. He is gone and she is gone.

It may be that Salinger never stopped writing and so, like all good resurrection stories, that means we will soon have a posthumous outpouring of work. I hope so. In the meantime, I've begun another reading of Nine Stories. It's been too long.

Oh snail, climb Mt. Fuji. Slowly. Slowly.
I have.

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