What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though. (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger)
This quote about the powerful connection between a reader and a writer seems strange coming from a man like J.D. Salinger. Shortly after the immense popularity of his Catcher in the Rye (1951), Salinger virtually disappeared from the literary world, and became a virtual recluse. One biographic sketch notes –
…Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter.
My question is if he (through the voice of his character Holden Caulfield) truly valued the almost spiritual connection between the writer and the reader, how could he have abandoned his fans like he did? Why couldn’t he have forfeited some of his privacy and simply learned to be a public figure (like so many others do)?
I’m sure I’m woefully naive when it comes to what immense popularity does to a person’s psyche, but I happen to adore the attention I’ve received in just a couple weeks I’ve been blogging publicly on this site. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit I seek out readers like a junkie seeks out a hit.
– When I did a post quoting Wendell Berry, I browsed the blogosphere to see who else might be interested in his writing. I left comments to get a conversation going.
– When I wrote about death and loss during the Christmas season, I googled “grief at Christmas” and got an encouraging response from a psychotherapist posting about a similar topic on her site.
My aim, understand, is not just bragging rights over visits and views. I am genuinely looking to form virtual relationships with people all over the world. I want to exchange ideas, bask in the glow of good sentence structure, banter about language. Learn something. And maybe teach somebody something as well.
It’s too bad Salinger couldn’t get over his hang ups soon enough to enjoy the wonders of the Internet.
Come to think of it, though, I think I am going to take my phone number off my profile. I mean virtual friends are nice, but once they break into real time, well, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.