Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Am Re-reading Franny and Zooey For The Second Time This Month

On January 27, JD Salinger's corpse will turn two years old. Franny and Zooey--though nitpicked by Updike, who is a cad, and by Joan Didion, who is the greatest nonfiction writer of the past fifty years--is Salinger’s finest moment. If you haven’t read Salinger since high school, start with either that or Nine Stories. Don’t start with Catcher in the Rye unless you are a sexually frustrated teenage boy.

Because I was a sexually frustrated teenage boy, I started with Catcher in the Rye. For a book report, I had to pick one novel from a pre-approved list of fifty. I picked Catcher not because I was a twelve-year-old version of Holden Caulfied, but because my older brother already owned it, which meant I would not have to borrow a book from the library, which meant I would save the $1.50 of late fees I would have inevitably incurred.

I’ve reproduced the tale here not just because I invariably go out of my way to recommend a good prose pacifier to divorced parents of petulant twelve-year-olds, but for quite another reason. What directly follows is a question about quality versus quantity, a question that is only fair when it pertains to artists who are already deceased.

If you’re a Salinger junkie, you have little choice but to read and re-read his slender oeuvre to get your fix. This is not healthy or admirable or even advisable. Since he published a mere four books, roughly eight-hundred pages in all, whenever I get that Salinger itch, there’s no place to scratch but the slim spine of one of my pocket-sized paperbacks. And I hate that. Like a more traditional junkie, I find myself lying to my mom instead of telling her the truth, instead of telling her that I am re-reading Franny and Zooey for the second time this month. It’d be a boon, not a bane, to his fans if Salinger had been more like Bob Dylan or Woody Allen or Philip Roth. Every year it seems there’s a new Roth novel in my stocking or a Woody Allen movie in my NetFlix queue or a Dylan album in my iTunes -- some superlative, some in that middle ground between mediocre and good, and some which are embarrassing, but totally have the right to exist. Regardless of their merit, however, I taste and decide for myself if I should return for seconds. Who knows? In a decade or so I might actually enjoy Bob Dylan’s Christmas album.

So which do you prefer: Artists who produce prodigiously, even if their production might occasionally be embarrassing? Or artists who are pickier with their output, producing less, but producing consistently superb art?

Elliott Krause is a Defunct staff reader and contributor to Ye Olde Blogge.


Anonymous said...

Personally I think that depends on the artist - his style, way of living, thoughts and especially on kind of art that artist is creating.

It is definitely EASIER when you are going into someone's legacy and you know what you are dealing with - how complicated was artist's life, how much work did he put into the shape of his legacy. Starting my journey with Salinger, I was aware of how much did he left and how important it was to really STUDY hiw words, enjoy it and take the most of it.

And also I belive that there are specific times in your life when some part of the artist's work speaks to you in the best/ most honest way - just like "Catcher in the Rye" speaks the best to "seaxually frustrated teenage boys" (I think - I also experienced it that way) and just like "Franny and Zooey" speaks the best to more mature people (I dont mean older, I mean MATURE).

Maybe Dylan's Christmas album will speak to us in a decade, or so, who knows?

Keep up the good work.

Greetings from Poland,


Rebecca said...

It's better to do a few things well than to produce garbage (even for the sake of fans - even if we have to read the same story over and over).

We have enough garbage in the world...enough imposters...enough people trying to pass of their pretentiousness as wisdom...

When the fat lady is your audience and Christ is the fat lady, shouldn't everything be done well as unto Christ? We wouldn't want to create crap and try to pass it off as art now would we?

Besides, Franny & Zooey is good enough to read more than once... even if it is within the same calendar month;)

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