the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where he was born, and what his lousy childhood was like, and how his parents were occupied and all before they had him, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but he doesn’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
Not only did he write a classic in his single novel, he became a recluse too. What a perfect legend. Trezza said to me last night, though, as they were reporting his death on the News at Ten, that Jerome David Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, ‘Isn’t the greatest book ever written, is it?’
‘No,’ I replied, ‘But it’s like Pretty Vacant, it’s not what it is, it’s what it does.’
I didn’t work it out at the time (as a seventeen year old smoking B&H while turning the pages on the top deck of the bus between home and college) but the prose has a rhythm that shares something with pop music; the beat of the sentences is quite visceral. At the time there was no working out to be done, at the time The Catcher in the Rye was the book that gave this discovery: a novel could be more than, and better than, just some goddam lousy, phony story; a novel could mean something.
I learned in the facts around the author’s death that it has sold 90 million copies to date. That’s good going by any standard (for a comparison, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest selling album of all time, is estimated at 60-100 million sales.) The Catcher in the Rye has a current Amazon World Ranking of # 1.
STOP PRESS: The top 12 places on Amazon are now occupied by Catcher in the Rye editions and York notes etc. I’ve got a feeling Holden might find this all a bit goddam phony.