The death of J.D. Salinger was announced this afternoon. Salinger, the creator of the inimitable Holden Caulfield, was 91 years old.
Salinger was one of those very few writers whose enormous artistic achievement is out of all proportion to the small place their writings occupy on the bookshelf. His one great novel was, of course, The Catcher in the Rye, but several of the “Franny and Zooey” Glass family stories, especially the first, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” are also classics.
As with all great writers at their best, Salinger seemed never to stumble, and one from the moment you begin to read their work, you are immersed in their world, with every detail of it perfectly imagined and rendered. One of Salinger’s early fans was Vladimir Nabokov, whose papers and working library are in the Berg. The latter includes his copy of the New Yorker’s anniversary volume of short stories, containing what the editors regarded as the fifty-five best that the magazine had published from 1940 to 1950. Nabokov graded each of the stories (there are a lot of Cs and Ds), and the only stories he awarded an A+ were his own (“Colette”) and Salinger’s “Bananafish.” A tribute from one master to another.
The Berg Collection holds a small group of Salinger correspondence, including a letter to the American poet Howard Moss, in which Salinger praises ("brilliant") the new volume of poetry that Moss has sent him commenting on several poems specifically, and writes about having drinks with the writer Jean Stafford. Also included are three letters written by Salinger to Butch Huff in1989 concerning the teachings of Hindu gurus, including Ramana Maharshi.