By now, I suspect most people have heard of the passing of J.D. Salinger yesterday at the age of 91. It is a death that was both shocking, expected, and heartbreaking. Until today, I hadn't realized how much Salinger meant to me.
Of course, we all know the Salinger legend -- the bright, literary star who essentially went into complete seclusion after giving the world perhaps the greatest novel of the 20th Century, The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger's seclusion, a seeming response to the celebrity Rye brought him, made him perhaps even more famous than he had been before. Decades have been spent wondering what Salinger was up to, if another novel might emerge from his New Hampshire compound, if he would ever come back out and join the world that was so mystified by him. The answer appears to, sadly, be no -- he came back to us only with the news of his death.
Of course, now the mystery about what he'd been up to all these years will intensify. There are rumors of notebooks filled with stories, unpublished novels locked away in safes. Perhaps in Salinger we'll see the emergence of a literary Tupac and he will become more prolific in death than in life. Who knows?
Salinger's death hit me rather hard this afternoon and makes me worry that perhaps 2010 will be to my literary spirit what 2009 was to my pop culture spirit. Salinger's death comes just a week after the death of Erich Segal, author of Love Story, one of my favorite books when I was in junior high and high school. The book that replaced Love Story as my all-time favorite book once upon a time? The Catcher in the Rye. See where I'm going with this? It makes me really fear for Judy Blume and, God forbid, Harper Lee. Now talk about deaths that would leave me shattered.