J.D. Salinger turns 90

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Reclusive author J.D. Salinger turns 90 tomorrow. As Charles McGrath wrote in yesterday's New York Times, "There probably won’t be a party, or if there is we’ll never know."

Salinger lives in seclusion in Cornish, N.H. There hasn't been a public sighting of him in years. But that doesn't mean he's been forgotten.

Speculation and debate continue to swirl around him and his works (and "The Catcher in the Rye" continues to sell about 250,000 copies a year.)

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Periodically, someone raises questions as to whether "The Catcher in the Rye" still belongs on high school reading lists. Blog on this question and you'll get responses. And if there are numerous respondees who think the book is dated, you'll find that there are at least an equivalent number who insist that it is not.

Of those who argue that it should still be read, you'll find at least a few who will tell you that for them the book was a seminal experience.

Salinger's stories about the Glass family ("Nine Stories," "Franny and Zooey," and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters") are also still considered masterpieces by many.  In 2001, Janet Malcolm praised "Zooey" in The New York Review of Books, saying that, "Rereading it and its companion piece 'Franny' is no less rewarding than rereading 'The Great Gatsby.' "

But the biggest question left unanswered about Salinger has to do with what he has or hasn't written since 1963.

Both Salinger's daughter Margaret and his former lover Joyce Maynard say that Salinger continued to write long after he stopped publishing and has many manuscripts locked away in his house – some of which could eventually see the light of day.

McGrath questions what Salinger would have to say to any of us today. "In general what has dated most in Mr. Salinger’s writing is not the prose," he writes, "but the ideas. Mr. Salinger’s fixation on the difference between 'phoniness,' as Holden Caulfield would put it, and authenticity now has a twilight, ’50s feeling about it. It’s no longer news, and probably never was."

In 1996 Salinger gave Orchises Press, permission to publish a novella called "Hapworth 16, 1924" which had appeared in the June 19, 1965 edition of The New Yorker. But the book's publication has been cancelled many times since (although Amazon still lists a January, 2009, publication date.)

In 1946, Salinger wrote that, "I almost always write about very young people." This has sometimes been called his "credo."

Whether he has been able to continue a creative relationship with that world – a world with which he has had no known contact for decades – is a question that, at least for the moment, cannot be answered.

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