When Two Worlds Collide
Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980. It has been written that Mr. Chapman was motivated to murder John Lennon because he felt that he was a “phony” a premise which was a common theme in his favorite book “The Catcher in the Rye” written by J.D. Salinger in 1945. It could be said that because of one piece of art, the creator of another form of art lost his life.
I had not been required to read Mr. Salinger’s book when I was in high school (which is apparently unusual since most people I’ve talked with this about read it and liked it – though none of them were driven to homicide because of it) and I was curious as to its message so I jumped right onto Amazon and bought the cheapest used copy that I could find. Thankfully it arrived before our current record breaking snow storm. Actually, I tried to find an on line copy and not only could I not find it as an e-book, it’s not even available on Kindle. I wondered about that but not as much as the story line and main character so I began reading.
What a disappointing book. Perhaps if I had a wonderful professor guiding me along and pointing out all the subtle irony and/or humor I may have been better able to appreciate Salinger’s masterpiece. From my un-PhD’d prospective I found the book to be more of a cautionary tale to older adolescents as to how to recognize a complete loser. Holden Caulfield, the main character and narrator of this story spends the majority of the book criticizing everybody he knows and meets with the exception of his younger sister and dead brother. He is a master at pointing out everybody’s frailties and short-comings while completely ignoring his own. It really is tedious to read page after page of his critical scrutiny of everyone else when in reality his apathetic self-loathing made me want to beat the hell out…I mean some sense into him.
The question I was asking myself the whole time I was reading the book was how anyone could relate to the main character or want to emulate him. Did Chapman not get how lame all of Holden’s blustering about everyone being “phony” was and how ineffectual he was at dealing with his own life? Maybe he was just so much like the character Holden that he really couldn’t see beyond his own uselessness and it was easier to turn his critical eye on one of his idols rather than trying to improve himself. The world may never know…or care.
In the final analysis, I haven’t a clue how the book could have inspired a man to commit murder.
Salinger only ever published short stories after “The Catcher in the Rye” and lived a reclusive life until his recent death and apparently there were many manuscripts discovered in his home. It should be very interesting to see if his family decides to submit his work to a publishing company and whether or not his later works will be published. Though I did not find “Catcher in the Rye” to be a book which touched me on any level, I would be curious to know what else Salinger spent his time writing.
For more info click on the link: http://salinger.org/index.php?title=Main_Page
Another reclusive writer (of sorts) whose work I did (and do) enjoy has been in the news recently. Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbs has recently done his first interview in fifteen years. I realize that most people would not think to compare the work of these two writers, but Watterson’s work has probably had just as much as an impact on people as Salinger’s work and frankly, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to read. I remember an article back when Watterson’s strip was still in publication that stated that the comic strip had made parents reconsider how they thought about their children and their capabilities. I don’t know if that’s true, but what I do know is his creativity in bringing us the lives of Calvin, his toy tiger Hobbs and Calvin’s beleaguered parents was refreshing and clever and it’s something I will continue to enjoy with my kids.