Saturday, November 02, 2019

J.D. Salinger Exhibit at the New York Public Library

Last week Michael and I spent part of our one day in New York at the J.D Salinger Exhibit in the New York Public Library. We had to surrender our jackets and our cell phones, which meant that everything we saw had to be taken in in real time (no photographing and reading later). The experience was different because of that. I had to really pay attention to what I was reading.

I imagine that Colleen Salinger, J.D. Salinger's widow, and J.D. Salinger's son, Matt Salinger, who organized the exhibit, will eventually publish the letters and images of "stuff" in the exhibit, but for now I can hold the things I saw in a (freshly "cleared") corner of my memory.

As part of the Four Seasons Reading Club, Michael and I are reading through all of Salinger's published work (except for The Catcher in the Rye which is still fresh in my mind after fifty years). Michael has read all and taught some of Salinger's work. I never made it beyond The Catcher in the Rye, and now I know how much I missed.

I thought that Salinger spent his life as a recluse, and I also thought that he had stopped writing once he stopped publishing his work. But now I know that he continued to work (i.e. write) all of his life. He also moved (in plain sight) about the world without fanfare, because he didn't do anything to feed the publicity machine. He was able to live his life in quiet comfort because his books sold well (and still continue to sell well).

I learned a lot about Salinger's need for privacy. This was refreshing to me, particularly when we live in an era where people who have had success feel compelled to do everything they can in order to remain "relevant."

One of the display cases in the exhibit held Salinger's movie projector and a few reels of the many movies he owned like Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes . And there were VHS tapes of those movies, some Marx Brothers movies, and Oliver!. Another case had his typewriter, little black books that he wrote in, yellow highlighting pencils, and a key ring with ideas written on punched little pieces of card stock. Another case held a little copper bowl that he made at camp when he was a child.

But it was reading his correspondence that really provided a window into who Salinger was, and knowing certain details about his life really helps me to understand and appreciate his work.

If you live in New York City (or plan to visit) I would highly recommend spending an hour or so in the Salinger exhibit.

Here's Salinger's obituary in The Guardian.

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