Saturday, 21 July 2012

J. D. Salinger's Nine Stories

“Nine Stories,” J. D. Salinger

The first post in a series where we ask New Yorker writers what book they have revisited most often.

For a long time, I read in an acquisitive way, to own books. I didn’t reread, because there were too many to get through. Eventually, I started abandoning the ones that didn’t pay off. At about the same time, I started rereading favorites. Maybe I thought I had earned extra time by leaving some unread.

Sometimes I listen to the audio version of a book that I’ve already read, which is a different experience. I listened to Susanna Clarke’s wonderful “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” not long after reading it, and I could see better how it was put together, knowing what was to come. But the only book I’ve read three times (or more) on paper is J. D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories.” It helped me understand what a story collection was, and should be.

“De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” was my favorite story the first time I read the book: the narrator looking back on his ghastly younger self, narcissistic and miserable and teaching a correspondence art class from Montreal. It was a story about desperate loneliness that made me laugh, which seemed a hard trick to pull off. “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” was charming and lovely but already overfamiliar, because of other people’s attachment to it. Later, I became partial to the odd and quasi-supernatural “Teddy,” and to the way “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” changes as you read it: the way it turns.

The last time I read the book, my favorite story was “The Laughing Man,” a story I had barely remembered from before, about love and storytelling and baseball. I’m pretty sure that “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the opening story, will never be my favorite, but who knows? The collection reminds me of those pencil marks on the wall, recording childhood height: a way to measure how we become different people, over time.

And in the news...

Bill backed by J.D. Salinger’s heirs vetoed in N.H.

The New Hampshire governor has vetoed a bill championed by the family of the late J.D. Salinger that would have allowed heirs to block the commercial use of a famous person’s identity — for example, that cool J.D. Salinger t-shirt you might wear while hitting on sensitive, bookish girls — for 70 years after their death. Gov. John Lynch said the specific legislation was too broad and could curb uses of images that are protected as free speech, reports the AP. The reclusive “Catcher in the Rye” author’s son Matt told reporters his father specifically moved to New Hampshire because believed it was a state where he’d be left the heck alone and his rights would be protected.

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