Well there's no rule that says that every post in this gardening blog has to be about gardening, is there? So this one isn't –
– Despite the picture which is of Hacquetia epipactis, a delectable little umbellifer which will be flowering here in a few weeks time and often tricks people into thinking it's some kind of aconite, or even a dwarf euphorbia –
No, I just wanted to say farewell, J. D. Salinger who died yesterday.
There, I've said it. Sorry you've gone and great respects.
Am I the only one among possibly hundreds of millions of its readers to think that his one big work, The Catcher in the Rye was somewhat overrated?
Everyone at my school read it, in the 50s. Indeed, if you hadn't yet read the thing, you had to pretend that you had, in case of appearing to be a 'square.' When my turn came, to borrow the battered paperback copy, I recall being underwhelmed. Not a book one would illicitly read after dormitory 'lights out' with a torch (flashlight) under the bedclothes. (Lady Chatterley's Lover was more like it, and our housemaster threatened instant beating for anyone caught with it - an added frisson indeed!)
But the Rye? Hm. The whining of a spoilt teenage brat, I thought, which said little that we didn't know already, being ourselves, whining teenage brats.
In older age, about three years ago, I rebelled against the inexorable tide of mediocre 'Lit Fic' which currently spews out of most publishers. So many dreary novels, set in North London, written with style but saying sod all! The last one I read involved fat brothers and stolen penguins, I think. But anyway, that was it. I hurled the thing across the room, when I'd finished it, and vowed to read nothing published later than the 1960s for a while.
And ever since, with the odd exception, I've stuck to re-reading classics - or reading them for the first time - and to revisiting writers I read when young.
Naturally, the The Catcher in the Rye was on the list. Also, work by Hemingway, Steinbeck, James Baldwin, Lawrence, Anthony Burgess, John Updike, John Masters, Conan Doyle, Wodehouse etc. etc. And, after a lifetime of nursing a wicked anti-Dickens prejudice, promulgated by a close blood relative who hates him, I'm currently reading his entire output and loving it, warts and all. And boy, are there some warts!
I enjoyed the Salinger this time round, far more than I had at school. Through the eyes of a man in his sixties, there is a little more sympathy for whining adolescents. But I still felt it slight, compared with, say, Updike's Rabbit novels, or with the wonderful Steinbeck's masterworks. The Grapes of Wrath towers above most American literature of the first half of the 20th Century, but I think his smaller works, particularly Cannery Row have enormous stature, compared with Salinger.
Updike came later than Salinger, but another 1960s writer who I hugely admire - James Baldwin - was almost a contemporary. His novel Another Country and his essays Notes of a Native Son should be read and compared with Salinger. I think you'd be impressed by him, if you haven't tried his work. Like the modern American novelist Toni Morrison, he creates a picture of black America that makes you realise how little you really understand about that world, unless you are actually part of it.
I suppose the big thing about The Catcher in the Rye was that it came so early - 1951, compared with the welter of rebellious literature that followed. Is that what makes it great - just good timing?
I'm currently reading Dickens - The Old Curiosity Shop - oh, dear, the mawkish sentimentality!
I'm listening to Feeling Good sung by Nine Simone, very kindly gifted me by James Le Chapeau
This week's film was Run, Lola Run! A breathless story told in three frenzied movements, in three parallel universes. Not brilliant, but certainly compelling.
This time in an hour, I'll be at my local surgery discussing the results of a hip x-ray. Growing old isn't all a bed of roses, you know!
Good reading - and bye bye!