Home > Fonzie of the Week > Fonzie of the Week #19: Anybody but J.D. Salinger

Fonzie of the Week #19: Anybody but J.D. Salinger

January 29th, 2010 2 comments
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Guess what? Your mom is Fonzie of the Week! So’s mine! And this week, so long as you are Anybody but J.D. Salinger, you too can call yourself Fonzie of the Week. Congratulations!

Lots of people are going to go out of their way in the next few days to demonstrate what a genius J.D. Salinger was, but don’t you believe the hype, loyal reader. The supposed greatness of his one novel and several short stories aside, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and point out that he was a complete nutjob, and definitely not deserving of the honor that you and everybody you know has earned this week. Mourn not the loss of Mr. Salinger, rather congratulate yourself for not being him. Way to go, you Fonzie, you!

I suppose I should provide some explanation for my dislike of the recently-deceased Salinger. To start with, I hated The Catcher in the Rye, which by all accounts I should have loved, having read it as a young white guy. Now there’s no accounting for taste, and I’m not going to argue with people who love the book. That’s a perfectly valid opinion to have. But so is mine, which is that Holden Caulfield was a spoiled rich kid who couldn’t hack it at his expensive private school, so he goes to New York and wastes a bunch of money he didn’t earn feeling bad for himself. What a page-turner. If only we could all afford to treat ourselves to a weekend in New York when we were depressed at 17. Now I’m not saying that Mr. Salinger didn’t create a believable character in Holden Caulfield. He did, and skillfully so. But that doesn’t make The Catcher in the Rye a good book: I’ve had to endure rich assholes in real life; I see no point in wasting my free time reading a book about a fictional one.

Regardless of my feelings towards Caulfield, J.D. Salinger’s life was an insult to people (espeically artists) who actually work for a living. I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but facts are facts. I hated The Catcher in the Rye, but let’s pretend for a moment that I loved it. Hell, let’s assume that I loved every scrap of fiction that Salinger ever published – there are plenty of people who do. Even so, the guy hasn’t published anything in more than 40 years! There’s plenty of speculation that he continued to write prolifically in his little New Hampshire fortress of solitude, but at best Mr. Salinger didn’t die an author; he died a former author and active weirdo recluse. I only write this blog that very few people read, and I often manage to fail my lowly goal of one post per week – and yet I’ve released more original content to the reading public in the last 6 months than Salinger has in decades. I’m not saying I’m a better writer than Salinger. I’m just saying I’m the only one of the two of us to actually write something people can read in the last 40 years.

But here’s the worst part of the hoopla surrounding Salinger’s death: people are praising him for not writing. What the hell? Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in a New York Times editorial that “there was a purity in Mr. Salinger’s separation from the world, whatever its motives, whatever his character. His half-century of solitude and silence was a creative act in itself, requiring extraordinary force of will.” Bullshit. Anorexia takes extraordinary force of will, too, but I don’t see the Times honoring all those tapeworm-eating teenage girls out there.

Let’s apply the J.D. Salinger path to greatness to an equally important but less lauded career: janitor. In this scenario, a young J.D. Salinger, just home from the war, fulfills his lifelong dream of perfecting the art of custodial maintenance. And he’s great at it! He quickly rises through the ranks, landing the most coveted shifts at the swankiest office buildings. Until one day, sick of his superiors and clients lavishing praise on him for his keen attention to detail, he retreats to his home and never cleans again. Or, in Salinger’s case, there would be wild speculation that he continues to clean in private, compulsively toothbrush-scrubbing his floors with furious abandon. But nobody can say for sure, because he won’t let anybody see his (possibly) spotless home. I guarantee that when Salinger the janitor dies, nobody’s going to claim that he was the greatest American janitor of his generation. Rather, they’d wonder why such a promising young custodial all-star went so batshit crazy. That’s what I’d like to see written about the real Salinger – preferably in a more prestigious publication than my lowly blog. Salinger may have been a great writer, but he wasted the second half of what could have been an even more accomplished life, and there was nothing noble or artistic about his freakish seclusion. It was his right to be a recluse, but let’s not praise him for it.

So to conclude: congratulations, Anybody but J.D. Salinger! Your steadfast dedication to not being J.D. Salinger is a true inspiration to children everywhere who boldly aspire to grow up to be somebody other than J.D. Salinger. Get out there and share your gifts with the world.

  1. Kevin Wheatley
    February 1st, 2010 at 15:51 | #1

    Needed to be said. I like Salinger’s work but I never really understood the praise for not doing anything for 40 years. That being said, I do aspire to not doing anything for from the age of 40 onward and receiving praise.

  2. February 1st, 2010 at 16:28 | #2

    @Kevin Wheatley
    You make a good point, Kevin. It could be that I’m just jealous I’ll have to keep working like a sucker well into old age. If that is the case, at least I’ve got a head start on being a bitter old coot.

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