Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Tuesday: Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

I know this isn't a romance, but when I heard last week that Salinger had died, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out one of my thirty some copies of this book (I'm a collector-- I have any number of editions of this book, in English and other languages, including a very beaten up, but very rare first edition that I just set on the shelf and look at).

Anyway, as I was reading it for what is probably the hundredth time, I was struck again by Salinger's incredibly evocative prose. "It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road." There's something about this line that always gives me shivers down my back, that makes me realize that Salinger really understood life and the human condition in a way that few people ever do.

When you're a writer, your writing style comes from a lot of different places-- it comes from inside of you, where certain combinations of words just feel right. It comes from your professors, who help mold the way you think and express yourself. And perhaps, most importantly, it comes from the work of those writers you admire. For me, Salinger is one of those writers who helped me become the writer that I am. My love of the anti-hero comes directly from him-- directly from Holden Caulfield-- as does my interest in the gritty reality of a scene. Salinger never disguised his character's flaws, never hid them behind a bed of purple prose. Instead he celebrated them in a way few people can ever understand-- in a way few people can ever do with their own flaws. One of the many things that made Salinger so great is that he really understood that flaws should be celebrated. That they are what makes characters-- and people memorable-- much more than virtues ever will. That's just one of the many lessons I've taken to heart from Salinger through the years, but it is an important one and one that I remember every time I sit down at my keyboard.

So, how about you? Is there any one author or one book that has helped shape how you view the world and yourself?


  1. Sadly, I do not think so. For the most part, I read romance books. Now when I was younger - high school age - the books we read back then gave me insight to the world of adventure and love. Men and Mice, The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare, The Lord of the Flies.... they opened the world of reading to me.
    Hope all is well my friend!

  2. No one book or author. All of them. You don't realize how they affect you until you're living your everyday life and then you'll use a book quote without thinking about it. Or you look at your friends or your man and you realize that the qualities you like in people came from the same books as the "what not to do" things. Reading is learning no matter what genre it is.

  3. I agree, Mary. I've learned a lot from romance novels-- in fact, I was telling my agent the other day how the historical romances of the late eighties and early nineties helped me get a 5 on my AP U.S. History exam in high school--LOL!

    Cecile, all is well, though I'm under deadline (as usual). I love Shakespeare, much to my husband's dismay, but really, what's not to love plotwise? Star-crossed lovers, jealousy, dark forces, strong women? LOL!

  4. Hi Tracy
    Hope you don't mind but I saw this on Smart Bitches & it's more eloquent than I can ever be.
    Why Romance Novels are Smarter Than You Think:

    Romance novels can teach you that romance itself is not merely a single gift or a gesture, and it sure isn’t just knockin’ boots. Romance doesn’t even guarantee a happy ending—anyone who has been through a bad breakup can tell you that, myself included. It’s not chocolate or hearts, diamonds or roses, yachts or airplanes. It’s not the gesture itself that creates the romance. It’s the motivation behind the gift or action, no matter what time of year it arrives.

    Romance can include sex but it is not just sex. So that itchy uncomfortable g-string you think would be the hottest thing since hot was invented? Maybe not. Romance is when it’s Not All About You. It’s valuing someone else’s happiness as much as, if not above, your own, and doing something merely to make that person happy. It’s not getting some; it’s giving some.

    Reading romance helps me, for example, recognize truly elegant and heartfelt moments when I find them in the real world, outside the pages of fiction. Romance is neither the Fabio hair nor a grand, sweeping moment with a crescendo of music and flowers raining from the sky. Romance is a lifelong habit present in the way we treat those we love and choose to be with. Most importantly, romance is found in how we treat ourselves.

  5. Isn't that a great post. Sometimes Smart Bitches just really knows what they're talking about!

    Thanks, Mary.