J. D. Salinger and Me

So there I am half asleep, sprawled out in my bed with the covers pulled over me. I duck my head under the covers because I am not sure I am seeing what I am seeing. After all it is early morning and I am still in a fog. I am always this way before I’ve had my first five cups of coffee in the morning.

I stick my head back out from under my covers, and yep, he’s there. It’s none other than Jerome David. I am talking the world-famous J. D., author of “Catcher in the Rye”. I recognize him from the jacket pictures. He’s as young as he once was. Somehow he’s dropped all those years since he died and he’s back to his youthful genius of a self. He’s standing at the end of my bed and he’s puffing on a cigar. I’m thinking it’s a Cuban cause they’re not banned from importing them in the hereafter. He’s halfway through the stogie and he is frowning at me.

“So you didn’t care for Catcher in the Rye?” he asks, his foot propped up on the end of my bed.

“What? Who?” I ask from my prone position.

He sits his foot back down on the floor. “I asked you if you didn’t like my book. You responded with a what and a who. Who the hell do you think it is? It sure isn’t that son-of-a-bitch Hemingway. What an asshole. Papa indeed. I never much cared for him. Now Scott Fitzgerald, there was a writer who could write.”

“Go away.” I rub my eyes and turn over on my side, hoping that this is a nightmare and I will wake up soon.

“I will not go away. You’ve got a lot of gall not liking my book. I did some damned good writing with that book. Not as good as later but still it’s a great book, even if I say so myself, and you don’t like it. Who the hell are you?”

I turn over and face Salinger. “I am the fellow who is telling you to get out of here. That’s who.”

“It’s all about alienation, you know?”

“I. Know. That.”

“Oh, you do. Well, I guess you were never a teenager, suffering from all that teenage angst, were you?”

Now I am mad. How dare this s.o.b. come into my bedroom and tell me I was never a teenager suffering from teenage angst. I had more teenage angst in my little toe than his spoiled prep school kid had in his whole body. Holden Caulfield’s biggest problem was that he had one hell of a chip on his shoulder.

“That book is all bullshit. Pure All American bullshit.”

“Bullshit. What do you mean bullshit? I worked my butt off on that book for over ten years. Put my whole life into it and you say it is bullshit.”

“That’s what I say. I read it in high school and I just didn’t get it. I understand Hemingway’s Old Man. He was fighting for survival. I understand the Joads. They were fighting for survival. I understand Gatsby. He was fighting for romance. And, as far as angst, existential angst, goes, I understand Camus’ Stranger. He didn’t mourn his mother the way he was expected to. And he was condemned for it. But Holden Caulfield, all he was fighting for was to be an asshole. I kept wanting to say, ‘Get a life.'”

I can see Salinger clearly now. I’m awake and I can see the fake Buddhist with his hands in a fist. He crushes that cigar against the bottom of my foot.

“Oh. That hurt. Thought you were a Buddhist. You’re going to screw up your karma, you know.”

He ignores my Buddhist comment. Somehow I knew he would. “Critics. That’s why I gave up on a public life. Became a hermit. You’re all full of shit. A big bag of shit. Here I am, the world-famous J. D. Salinger, standing at the foot of your bed, trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Trying to give you some insight into my brilliance. And all you can do is insult me. Why do I even care? But that’s my problem. I care too damned much. If you only knew how much blood I sweated into that book. Trying to make every word perfect.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” I say. “I didn’t say the writing wasn’t good. It was. Damned good. Some of your best. But it was so wasted over that Holden Caulfield. Thing is that I’ve known people who complained about their good fortune their whole lives. In my book that’s Holden Caulfield. I just don’t care one iota about those kind of people. Never did. Never will.”

“But that’s not the point,” Salinger goes on. “He brought out the best in me. I guess you just don’t get it. But a lot of other teenagers did. And still do. That’s why it’s so popular. Not that I wrote it to be popular. I didn’t. I wanted to call attention to what it felt like to be a teenager in fifties America. I hit the nail on the head. That’s why I went into seclusion. I got tired of all that hero worship. Like I had the answers to all of life’s questions. I was good, but I wasn’t that good. I had more questions than answers. Anyway I tired of it.”

Suddenly he had a martini in his hand. Where the martini came from I did not know.

He noticing me noticing his martini. “Shaken, not stirred. The way I like it. You know, Ian Fleming got that from me. We were at a party once. I had been invited down to Jamaica by some friends. I was thinking that the Glasses would be Jamaican. Who do you think shows up at this party? Ian Fleming. We were talking when I asked for a martini. When I said shaken not stirred, he said, ‘Oh, I can use that.'” He took a sip from his martini. “Mmmm. That’s good.”

“So you think,” I say, “Holden Caulfield was like every teenager in America at that time?”

“I don’t know about every teenager but it sure was the way I felt. I must say that all those people coming to me and telling me that I had saved them, that was a little too much. Like I am a Messiah or something. If you want stories about messiahs, read ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.'”

I am wide awake now. “Well, I am sorry I offended you with my comment. It’s just my opinion. You can take it for what it’s worth. Every writer has the write to create whatever character he wants. And every reader has the right to not like that character. Personally I liked your stories much more. Thought you had great insight into how children saw the adult world and how they communicated that. ”

Then I realize I am talking to myself. The mirage, or was it a mirage, a hallucination, well, it’s gone. Since I am awake already, I throw off the covers and jump out of bed. Oh, I cry out. My right foot hurts. I sit on the side of the bed and take a look at the bottom of my foot. There’s a burn mark there all right. It can’t be. It just can’t be.

Banned in a small town

September 22 – 28 is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. In honor of the week, I am spotlighting the Movie, “Storm Center” (1956):

In cities and towns everywhere, there are those people who are checking the shelves of libraries and bookstores to find out if there is one of those books. Those books that have radical ideas. Ideas they don’t want others to discover. Because the ideas might pollute the minds of their fellow citizens or maybe their fellow citizens will discover the foolishness of these ideas.

Or maybe there’s some words in a book that might be bad. Books like the “n-word” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After all, George Orwell in his 1984 warned us that language can be manipulated.

Or maybe there’s a scene where the characters are doing something that’s “bad”, scenes like the ones in Ulysses or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In the movie, “Storm Center,” the Town Council of Small Town USA wants the local library director to get rid of one book, The Communist Dream. They are receiving letters from people that don’t like that one book. It’s the 1950s, and the communists are out to destroy us and our way of life. Just one book.

Alicia Hull, the library director, agrees that she’ll take the book off the shelves. in her office, she asks herself, and her employee, “How do you get rid of a book?”

She could burn it. But then she remembers that they burned books in Germany that the Nazis didn’t like. Then she remembers her principles. Even though it may cost her the children’s wing of the library, she won’t be bought off.

Back at the City Council, she stands by her principles. She will not remove the book. Then one of the Council brings up organizations she belonged to. He insinuates that she must be guilty by association. After all, this is the 1950s. Tailgunner Joe is running wild in Washington, pointing fingers at this one and that one, bringing down the high and the mighty with accusations of communism.

If her association with these organizations gets out, there’s no telling what will happen to her. They might even have to fire her. They can’t have their children associating with a librarian who is a communist.

Just remove that book. And any others the town council doesn’t approve of and everything will be a-okay.

First it was just one book. Now it’s two or three or ten or a hundred.

Alicia Hull refuses to remove the book. And so she suffers the consequences. What the town council doesn’t realize is that their decision will have ramifications for the whole community.

As Alicia Hull, Betty Davis delivers one of her best performances. The film may be dated. After all, people wear bibs as they eat their lunch in the movie. Still it has a powerful impact on the viewer when the viewer asks, “What if?”

Since the 1980s, the American Library Association has celebrated the freedom to read by honoring those books which are challenged or banned. So be a rebel and visit your local bookstore or library and check out a copy of one of those books. You’ll find a list on this page.

In Praise of the eReader

The eBook has taken a bad rap over the years. Like so many readers, I like the feel of a physical book myself. Especially if it’s a graphic novel or an art book or a book of photographs or a book that’s well designed. There’s nothing quite like cozying up to a good physical book. In fact, I have several book shelves stacked with “me beauties”. And I still enjoy browsing bookstores and libraries.

When the kindle and the nook first came on the market, I was resistant. I thought it was just a fad. There wasn’t going to be a large supply of eBooks. The eReader was going to be like that pet rock I adopted in the seventies. Boy, was I wrong.

After a bit, I downloaded the kindle app on my computer and gave it a try. I was surprised how much I enjoyed my experience. So I bought my first kindle and the experience didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it was downright pleasurable. This was back in Ought-twelve. These days I carry my kindle everywhere the way I used to lug around books.

So here are ten reasons why I fell in love with the kindle and keep the affair going on.

1.Out-of-print books available.

2.Very portable.

3. Lightweight.

4. I don’t have to struggle to read at lunch at work. There’s no universal bookholder for paperbacks, large books and epic war-and-peacers.

5. My reading speed improved.

6.It’s an ecological thing to do. Think of all the trees saved.

7. Libraries have gotten on the bandwagon, offering eBooks through apps like Overdrive.

9. Price. Through programs like bookbub, very inexpensive books. Many of the classics are free.

10.Unpublished writers now have a chance to become successful authors.

So, as you can see, it’s not an either/or. I have the best of both worlds. The physical book for my sitting alone reading at home and the eBook for my carrying around reading and for research projects. Whoopee!! I am a happy camper. And may I wish all of you Happy Reading!

Maurice Micklewhite’s Road to Success

Hardcover: 288 pages Publisher: Hachette Books (October 23, 2018)

It’s only occasionally that I read autobiographies or memoirs but I was attracted to Michael Caine’s new book. It’s not just a memoir. It’s more of a philosophy on how to be a great actor. And it’s also a master class in life.

And I have to tell you this one was a delight to read. In addition to being a great actor, he is a pretty darned good writer too.

Some years ago I saw his lecture on “Acting in film.” It’s on DVD and I would highly recommend it. After seeing that film and reading this book, I have come to see just how hard acting on film is. It’s darned hard.

Despite all that seems glamorous about the profession, it isn’t all that glamorous. It’s only glamorous because we don’t see all the hard work that goes into the work.

Even though his lessons apply to acting, they can apply to any passion. “Find something you want to do and learn how to do it really well.”

For an English working class kid named Maurice Micklewhite, it didn’t look so good early on. But he had one thing going for him. He decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. An actor. And he stuck to that passion no matter what. There wasn’t an obstacle that was going to stop him. It’s as he writes, “No matter where you start in life, you can get up and out.” But “learn what you can from what you get.”

You want to be an actor and you can’t go to acting school? You want to be a writer and can’t afford writing lessons? Do what he did. As he points out, his main education came from two sources. “You couldn’t find two more richly educational surrogates than the cinema and the public library.”

And he lays it on the line that he didn’t expect it to be easy. Even when he was doing all right. In fact, doing all right didn’t mean an easy road ahead. Because he learned and he has kept learning the secrets they don’t tell you in acting school.

Secrets such as you’re always auditioning and nice guys do finish first. He once overheard a journalist ask his wife, “What first attracted you to Michael?” Her reply, “It was the way he treated his mother.”

And be easy to work with. As you can see, Michael Caine is a roll model for that lesson. He was so easy to work with directors and writers keep inviting him to the party.

Persevere and don’t take no for an answer. Use every thing along the way as an opportunity toward your passion. See your failures as opportunities and lessons to learn. “Discipline and a sense of purpose are more important than they have ever been.”

When you are invited to the party, be prepared. “Preparation, focus, hard work and resilence” are the elements which will get you through even the worst of situations. As he puts it, “luck favors the prepared.” At one point, he is asked, “What is your secret to success?” His answer, “Survival.”

Of course, there’s tales of his relationships with many of his colleagues in the industry, colleagues like Sean Connery and Roger Moore. His insights working with directors like Christopher Nolan.

But this is more than a recipe to career success. This is a recipe for a long lasting marriage. He’s been married to Shakira for forty-six years. And it’s a recipe for a good life.

I will leave you with two final pieces of advice from philosopher Michael Caine: “The only way to be sure you never fail is never to do anything at all. And the only way to really, truly fail is not to learn from your failures. Any time you learn from a failure, it’s a success.”

“In the end…find what you love, and do it as well as you can. Pursue your dream and, even if you never catch it, you’ll enjoy the chase. The rest comes down to luck, timing and God: even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you. And when all of that runs out, use the difficulty.”

I give a two thumbs up to that.

 

Book Review: “The President’s Hat”

The President's Hat

By Antoine Laurain
209 pages,
Publisher: Gallic Books, March 28, 2013

Summer’s good for light reading entertainment. And The President’s Hat just fits that bill.And it will charm your socks off.

The President’s Hat is not the hat of Donald Trump or Barack Obama. Not the hat of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. It is the hat of Francois Mitterand, President of France during the 1980s.

Antoine Laurain’s story is how four different individuals come into possession of the extra special hat. A hat that can do magic for its wearer.

The story begins with Daniel Mercier. He is a low level bureaucrat. His wife and son are out of town, so he’s been batching it. The night before they return, he decides to splurge. He goes out to eat. While he’s enjoying his meal, the President of France takes a table next to his. Mitterand is joined by two other men.

He overhears Mitterand say, “As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week…” “Never again, he told himself, would he be able to eat oysters without hearing those words: ‘As I was saying to Helmut Kohl last week.'” (p.20) For the next two and a half hours, Daniel makes his fish platter last so that he can let Mitterand’s person shine on him. He has never been that close to fame before.

Unfortunately Mitterand forgets his black homburg. Daniel takes it. This act changes not only his life. It changes the lives of a semi-professional writer Fanny Marquant’s, a perfumer Pierre Aslan, and the conservative upper class Bernard Lavalliere as they come into possession of the hat.

Bernard Lavalliere’s attitude about so many things change. He goes to a party he wouldn’t have been caught dead at in his previous life.

Riding in a Rolls-Royce on the way to the party: “It was one of those nights that take you back to the magical nights of youth, filled with fun, freedom and boundary breaking–the kind of nights that naturally exist only in your imagination. The makers of this track were at the top of the charts, he was riding in a Rolls-Royce to meet the high priest of publicity and the man behind the wheel could knock any price down by thirty per cent. Winners, all of them.” (p. 155)

At the party: “Leaving the three of them to squabble over the mysterious painter, Bernard picked up another glass of champagne and turned his mind back to his ancestor. Charles-Eduard was a shrewd character, no doubt about, but in common with many of his peers, the Impressionists had completely passed him by. A single Money, a single Renoir–not to mention a Gauguin or a Van Gogh–would now be worth a hundred times the legacy he had built up over his lifetime. The Lavallieres had displayed a dubious penchant for paintings of ruins–as  far as the romantic landscapes went, they had it covered–but had never had the sense to invest in anything of artistic worth. A repulsive image came into his mind: the little landscape with its broken clock.” (p. 158)

This is a tale about how an object can change your life. It reminded me of a story of mine that I had posted called “Edna’s Feet“.

And there’s lots of French cuisine in this short novel. Since I’m not a gourmand, I wasn’t sure what many of the food’s dishes were. But they were delightful. The characters sure enjoyed them.

And I sure enjoyed the book.