Salinger in the context of a writing life.

SALINGER28-600x910I’ve been re-reading J D Salinger–9 Stories and Franny and Zooey. Why? First, because I’ve read to the end of all the books I have in my possession, so far, in the Master’s of Rome series (Colleen McCullough). Second, because . . . ooooo me, there are so many reasons why to re-read Salinger! Did you know that he was in intelligence in WWII (not C.I.A.)? He was in Paris mopping up (detaining Nazi sympathizers) after the war–where he met with Hemingway.  Did you know Hemingway was his friend/mentor? Mostly people know that he was an inveterate recluse, later in his life, who, it was said, had ‘strange’ ideas about religion/God.

We, the reading public, don’t pay so much attention to the part about HE WROTE ALL THE TIME–in hotel rooms, in foxholes; but we writers should. Salinger was a writer. He wrote. He rewrote. He submitted and was published early on–in Story, The New Yorker. He mostly wrote short stories. Even his longer work was derived from his short stories. Franny and Zooey was rejected by publishers because ‘they didn’t get it.’ So, what am I getting at? Did he care? He was a writer–he cared! Did he change his story, edit out the Salinger in it? What do you think?

Why should it matter to know that Salinger wrote in foxholes. The point is that he WAS IN the foxhole. It’s important that writers have something to write about. If you read Franny and Zooey you may not think you’re reading about foxholes, but you are. The sum total of the writer comes through to the writing, and for that reason it’s important to live–and to write at the same time.

The real question is why do we writers write. I imagine most of the men you found writing in foxholes in WWII were writing letters home; they weren’t writing short stories. I imagine if someone was writing a short story in a foxhole, he wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not the story was going to be published; he was writing because he had a story to tell. For me, that answers the question: why do we writers write. And isn’t it interesting the Salinger’s foxhole stories didn’t seem to be about soldiers in foxholes? Not any that I’ve read. The imagination refines the material of the storyteller into gold: alchemy!

The real question is why do we writers write. I imagine most of the men you found writing in foxholes in WWII were writing letters home; they weren’t writing short stories. I imagine if someone was writing a short story in a foxhole, he wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not the story was going to be published; he was writing because he had a story to tell. For me, that answers the question: why do we writers write. And isn’t it interesting the Salinger’s foxhole stories didn’t seem to be about soldiers in foxholes? Not any that I’ve read. The imagination refines the material of the storyteller into gold: alchemy!

Salinger lived to be 91 years old, he died in 2010. It’s said that he continued to write, although nothing was published after 1950, that I can find, except a collection of stories in 1965. It’s said that nothing will be published until 50 years after his death. I should live so long.

M L S Baisch