Author J.D. Salinger passed away today, generating thousands of posts around the Internet. In honor of this great writer, we’ve collected a few links to the evolving critical opinion of Salinger’s work.
In 1951, James Stern wrote one of those ‘I’ll write like a character in the novel’ book reviews that never quite work. Dig it: “This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all at that crumby school. They depress me.”
In 1961, the great John Updike reviewed Franny and Zooey. Check it out: “His fiction, in its rather grim bravado, its humor, its morbidity, its wry but persistent hopefulness, matches the shape and tint of present American life. It pays the price, however, of becoming dangerously convoluted and static. A sense of composition is not among Salinger’s strengths, and even these two stories, so apparently complementary, distinctly jangle as components of one book.”
In 2004, Jonathan Yardley pondered The Catcher in the Rye. “What most struck me upon reading it for a second time was how sentimental — how outright squishy — it is. The novel is commonly represented as an expression of adolescent cynicism and rebellion — a James Dean movie in print — but from first page to last Salinger wants to have it both ways.”
Finally, in an engaging essay, Janet Malcolm revived the reputation of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. Here’s an excerpt: “Today Zooey does not seem too long, and is arguably Salinger’s masterpiece. Rereading it and its companion piece Franny is no less rewarding than rereading The Great Gatsby. It remains brilliant and is in no essential sense dated. It is the contemporary criticism that has dated.”
If you want to read more, Literary History has a collection of links. As GalleyCat Reviews grows, we will feature daily links to excellent literary criticism. If you think a book review you wrote should be featured for our audience, email GalleyCat a link.
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Anyone who reviews books, wants to review books or works with books are well advised to read Lionel Shriver‘s essay in Saturday’s Telegraph. There she lays bare the conundrum of being a fiction writer reviewing other people’s fiction – and the trouble she will probably fall into as a result. “Were I to believe in karma – or in the equivalent Western aphorism that what goes around comes around – in preparation for my own UK book release this month I’d have been filing only fawning review copy for the past year,” Shriver declares. “Instead, I recently slashed two novels [Norman Mailer's THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST and Graham Swift's TOMORROW] to ribbons.”
Shriver’s dramatic exhortations give way for a most focused assessment on the difficulties of reviewing: keeping personal opinion separate from the professional, karmic payback in the form of prize-judging and the like. And from a gossipy standpoint there’s this choice item:
Moreover, if a writer has once alienated the affections of a heavy-hitting critic, subsequent publications don’t have a prayer. (The professional critic Jonathan Yardley – a humourless man, I discovered too late – despised my sixth novel. After a brief email exchange that went off the rails, he dispensed with the artificial distinction between author and book and now unabashedly despises me. If Yardley ever gets his mitts on one of my novels again, I am toast in the Washington Post.) The current system used by most review sections in this country – of rolling the dice anew with every release – does give writers, statistically, a fighting chance.
Alas, even prize-winning, highly acclaimed writers let emotions get the better of them in engaging critics by email. So if you’re thinking of doing that, well, ever? Please, don’t.