A Perfect Day for Bananafish (Or why everyone should read Salinger)

JD Salinger reading at a table

Before I launch into my praise of Salinger, I need to confess something. When it comes to books, I’m useless. Also films and music. I love books and films and music, but ask me what my favourites are and you will be met with a blank stare. Obviously I know what I like at the time, but afterwards I can never remember the names of anything, or who wrote, starred in, or sang, what. Seriously, don’t ask me to join your quiz team if there are likely to be any questions about books, films or music because I assure you, I will be of no help. As I have mentioned on here, I have started writing a book, and one of my biggest fears around that is that at some point people will be asking me what my favourite books and authors are, and I won’t have anything intelligent to say. I could talk a bit about Silas Marner I suppose because we did that for our English literature O’Level and I liked it enough to have read it twice more since, so I remember the story and who wrote it which is a lot for me. I could also talk a bit about Pride and Prejudice (which I have also read three times I believe), but then so can everyone. But what if they start naming particular authors and asking me what I think of them? What will I say? (I’m not sure who these people are who will be asking me these questions, but that’s irrelevant right now, I’ve listened to Radio 4 so I know it happens).

I’m getting that bit out of the way first in case there is anyone like me reading this, who may be worried that I will be talking intelligently about books; I won’t be.

Now that I’ve explained all that, you’re probably wondering why I’m choosing to write about Salinger right? Well it goes like this…a few months back, I was speaking to my partner about some short stories I had written and wondering whether they were too dialogue-heavy. I expressed that I felt it wasn’t proper for stories to be driven so much by dialogue. “Not at all” he said. “Dialogue-heavy stories can be excellent. Have you read any Salinger?”. Well of course I had no idea whether I had or not, so he went ahead and bought me some Salinger. “Read them and you will see” he said. So I read them and I saw. I can now confirm that I had reached the grand old age of 41 without ever having read The Catcher in the Rye, or A Perfect Day for Bananafish or, I’m fairly confident, any of his work at all. Shocking isn’t it. I can also now say that I LOVE the way Salinger writes, nobody can turn a phrase like he can (nobody that I can remember anyway). He writes very cleverly, but it feels like it was effortless to write, and it is a joy to read. His writing is a bit quirky and I like quirky. He can be funny and tragic at the same time. He hints at things so terrible that you dare not allow your mind to go in that direction but you are nevertheless compelled to keep reading. At times he leaves you confused and unsure about what has just happened, but you don’t feel cheated by that. It is very readable, very readable indeed (which is always a useful quality in a book). You get the sense that he had no idea quite how brilliant he was.

Jump forward to a couple of days ago and I read this blog about writing dialogue by Neeks at Limebird Writers, which gave me the idea to write something about Salinger. And so here I am, writing about Salinger. I haven’t actually said a whole lot about him have I, but at least I can now add him to my very short list of authors that I might be able to mention if I am called upon to do so.

So in summary, yeah, Salinger is a pretty cool dude, and in the unlikely event that you too have not read any of his work, then you really should (and there I was worrying that I wouldn’t have anything intelligent to say).

Oh, and as this is my blog, I can divert if I like – my book research survey remains open until 14 Feb, so if any parents out there haven’t yet filled it in, it would be lovely if you could. It’s very short and it’s here: http://surveyofparents.questionpro.com/

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22 responses to “A Perfect Day for Bananafish (Or why everyone should read Salinger)

  1. Christopher Lampton

    I love Salinger, absolutely love Salinger. But I think his reputation has been hurt by shoving The Catcher in the Rye down the throats of several generations of schoolchildren. The Catcher in the Rye is a good book. Indeed, it’s a VERY good book. But it can’t hold a candle to Salinger’s brilliant, deep and charming Glass family stories (Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, Seymour: An Introduction, and Franny and Zooey) or to the Nine Stories collection. Those stories are so extraordinary that they lift Salinger out of the realm of the ordinary and into whatever realm exists beyond perfection. The Catcher in the Rye is good. It’s just not THAT good.

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    • Thank you for commenting. I really want to read more of his work; I’ve done the Nine Stories (over here the collection is titled For Esme with Love and Squalor), definitely the Glass family stories next.

      I shall go and have a look at your two sites in a moment.

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  2. Thank you for the shout out Vanessa, we limebirds love them. I have enjoyed Salinger too – though to be honest I remember devouring Catcher in the Rye in school and can’t recall a single word of it now.
    I don’t worry about people asking what I read – if anyone ever does I’ll tell them what I do read and there’s no need to apologize for what I don’t. We aren’t any less complete for what we haven’t read – we’re better equipped with what we have read. I think you said quite a bit about Salinger here in this post, and now i feel like going out and finding the Glass family stories to have a look!

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  3. I feel that I should write something very intelligent after reading such a passage and I am struggling. I haven’t read any books written by Salinger but I do rather like Susan Lewis, Dean Koontz, Jeffery Deaver and Karen Rose because they are full of excitement and passionate affairs o’er! I’m also considering writing a book, I can create a story from very little and usually get some laughs from the Smith’s listeners, usually at bedtime.
    I think I have gone a little astray for what this piece was all about so I will leave it there, actually I think it might be worth sharing a little story told during a bath session.

    It all started with a golden egg that had the power of eternal life, every bath toy wanted to have it. Unfortunatley to get to the golden egg they had to venture through Prehistoric lands(Dinosaurs represented this), Disney land (Pooh bear), Swap land (frogman), cake World (sponge in the shape of a chocolate cake slice) and finally the ocean (the bath). Many toys attempted to get to the golden egg but alas they got stuck as each area until a little brave dinosaur made the journey with a lance (toothbrush) and got the golden egg with a resounding CHEER . LOL.

    Hmm, I think that perhaps after reading the above one might think I have lost the plot but to be honest you just had to be there to understand the hillarious laughter created by the viewers. I will look out for a book written by Salinger because I have some holidays coming up and love a good book so will feedback what I found.

    I’m not sure if this response was expected but stranger things have happened. Actually speaking of strange things have you ever thought about where are are?

    I’ll leave it there and please forgive the spelling, it wasn’t my srrongest(lol) subject in school.
    Take care all and watch out for my next posting.
    Gazx

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    • Oh hi Gaz 🙂 There must be a connection here, we both went to the same school, and neither of us had read Salinger – they deprived us of Salinger!

      A golden egg with the power of eternal life? It has potential…

      Thanks for having a read. Catch up soon! x

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  4. Well, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve never read “Catcher in the Rye.” Worse, although I know who Salinger is, I can’t remember his first name, although what I do know about him is he was a bit strange wasn’t he? I could come up with some favorite books though, if and when I’m asked the question. Like “A Fistful of Fig Newtons” or “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” both by Jean Shepherd. How about this one “Chocolate Days and Popsicle Weeks.” I loved that book so much I had trouble replacing my copy because it’s been out of print for a while. Can’t remember who wrote it though.

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    • Well his first name is JD of course! 😉

      Thank you for commenting. I haven’t read the three you mentioned, I shall add them to my list of books to read (I don’t actually have a list, but I’m thinking of starting one so that I don’t feel so lost when I’m trying to choose a book to read!).

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  5. Well, Vanessa, I don’t want to worry you but when you are rich and famous after the publication of your book and you are invited to go on to “Desert Island Discs” you will have to come up with 8 favourite songs and a book to take with you. (You could always choose the Salinger of course who I agree is a wonderful writer) As I am always expecting the phone call to invite me on to Desert Island Discs I always keep my 8 tracks handy just in case. I find I tend to have 4 that I know will always be in the selection and then the other 4 can vary quite a bit and can be different on Tuesday to the ones I selected on Monday. I do think you should start preparing your choices sooner rather than later. Bizarrely Kirsty Young has still not called me but when she does I will be ready.

    Regarding short stories I can recommend enthusiastically the William Boyd collection called “On Yankee Station” which I think dates from the early eighties and is still easily available. It’s an incredibly rich collection in terms of settings and characters and styles. It ranges from a Scottish Boarding school to a Navy operations centre in Vietnam and takes in a whole host of other settings in between. There are also a couple of stories featuring a character called Morgan Leafy who appears in one of Boyd’s novels from about that time called “A Good Man in Africa”. His use of descriptive detail and dialogue are really impressive.
    Really enjoyed your blog.
    Mike x

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    • Thank you Mike.

      I’m not worried about my appearance on Desert Island Discs because there will be time to prepare for that. It is the occasions where I might be called upon to reply swiftly to a question with no time to prepare that I’m concerned about.

      Thank you also for the recommendation, another for the list!

      x

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  6. Thanks for having a look at my blog, thought I’d pop over and say hi 🙂

    I have a vague feeling I may have read Catcher in the Rye about 5 years ago, but it obviously didn’t stick and it’s back on my to-read list. So I’d put myself in the same boat of not knowing any Salinger! Glad to read that you enjoyed it though, I’ll bump it a bit further up the list.

    I do love Pride and Prejudice though! 😉

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  7. Oh I love your sentence lengths. I am always criticised for mine being too long, I’m going to take a leaf out of your sentence stature. I have not read any Sallinger but now feel that i must….getting on with that right now.

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  8. Thanks for stopping by my blog and thank you for being honest about never remembering authors. I read all the time and I can never remember authors etc. I’ve never read Salinger but I’ll put Catcher in the Rye on my list. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice at least 5 times and have watched the move with Colin Firth as many times or more!

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    • Thanks for stopping by here too! It’s funny what things we remember and what things we don’t isn’t it – I can remember whole passages and scenes from books and films, but I can’t remember who wrote or said them. I really should make more of an effort!

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  9. I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye either, or at least I can’t recall. I’m an avid reader and do remember authors and titles. When I first started reading, I would only remember the story. I guess when other readers started asking me if I’d read so and so, I decided I had to pay more attention to writers’ names. I’m doing much better now.

    Thanks for stopping by and ‘liking’ my latest post. I know I’ll be back HERE too. You’re a breath of fresh air and I enjoy reading you.

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  10. Pingback: What was it? What happened on February 9, 2012? | Vanessa-Jane Chapman

  11. I really enjoy Salinger and I have ‘Franny and Zooey’ on top of my headboard back home, so I need to read that next time I’m down on the mainland. I think it’s great to showcase the things that you like. 🙂 Reading recommendations are always great!

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