Tag Archives: Jerome D Salinger

Five years old

Five years old on Monday, I was taking a lunch break in my office in the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Illinois, a stone’s throw away from the little stone church building built by Unitarians in 1843, just a few years after the Illinois frontier had opened up after the conclusion of the Blackhawk Wars. I had spent the morning looking through old church records, to what end I no longer recall. On my lunch break, I decided to start a blog on AOL’s now-defunct blogging service. Being a peripheral participant in geek culture, of course I had to name it “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist Blog,” although I soon dropped the last word. The only person I told about it was my partner Carol, yet within a couple of days several people in the congregation had discovered my new blog, and the blogger’s collective at the old Coffee Hour site had reviewed my first post. Something interesting was happening here: religion had expanded into the digital realm. And there I was, one of the people exploring this new landscape.

It’s been a wild ride since then. Here are some of my favorite moments from the past five years:

  1. I was asked by Peacebang to serve as an example of a poorly-dressed minister when she was interviewed by Mainstream Media about her “Beauty Tips for Ministers” blog. Alas, my photo didn’t make it into the published interview.
  2. I attended one of the Boston-area UU blogger’s picnics, where I got to meet a couple of blogger spouses. They were both very nice mild-mannered people.
  3. Upon being introduced to me at a denominational gathering, a woman said, “Are you really as mean as Mr. Crankypants?” She looked frightened. I was completely nonplussed, and made some halting reply that did nothing to reassure her.
  4. I have had several entertaining online arguments with my older sister, bouncing back and forth between our two blogs.
  5. Commenter, fellow-blogger, and friend E recently took me to task in a long phone conversation for willfully misunderstanding J. D. Salinger in a post (she was right, of course, not that I admitted that while we were talking).

I started out thinking that blogging was just another publishing medium, like letterpress or photocopying. Then I began to understand that social media like blogs are more than a technological means for getting my words and ideas out to a wider public; they are really a way to carry out a larger conversation than can happen face-to-face. Recently, I have begun to understand that really all writing and publishing are forms of social media: when Richard Steele published The Spectator, his letterpress-printed words opened up a broader conversation; when zines started using the new technology of photocopying, they too were opening up a broader conversation; blogs and other online publishing platforms use new technologies, but the ultimate goal of a broader conversation remains the same.

For those of us who use online technologies, the real challenge now is to raise the quality of our writing. We bloggers need our Steele and Addison — or better yet, the blog equivalents of Mark Twain — people who write good prose and who have something to say that’s worth saying. We bloggers need someone who will raise the standard for the rest of us. Maybe the blog equivalents of Richard Steele and Mark Twain are already publishing but I haven’t seen them. Most bloggers write prose that’s either precious, cute, tainted with the contemporary workshop aesthetic,1 confused, rushed, or just plain bad (I tend towards the latter three). Currently, we read blogs for the information, not for the quality of expression.

I plan to write this blog for at least another five years. I hope that five years from now I will be able to point to several blogs written by great English prose stylists. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of those writers.


1 See: David Dooley, “The Contemporary Workshop Aesthetic,” Hudson Review, Summer 1990, no. 259.

The next state of being

Carol came home, made a sandwich, told me about her day, then said, “Did you hear J. D. Salinger died?”

“Finally,” I said.

“What do you mean?” she said.

Twenty years ago, Salinger was one of my literary idols, and news of his death would have sent me into a tizzy. But since then I’ve grown tired of the way Salinger courted publicity by claiming to be a recluse; any time his book sales began to decline, he sued someone to get back in the news. Twenty years ago, I wanted to know what happened to his fictional family, the Glasses, after the events in the story “Franny and Zooey.” But now I’m bored by the preciousness of his characters’ dialogue, bored by Salinger’s half-baked mysticism, bored by his stories in which nothing much happens.

A year or so ago, I met one of Salinger’s neighbors, and this person knew Salinger about as well as a long-time neighbor in a small town could know someone. This neighbor described a man who was deaf as a post, with a long-suffering wife; someone who was cranky and mean but worthy of his neighbor’s amused affection. He was just what you’d expect of an outsider who had moved to a backwater hill town in New England and had tried to imitate an eccentric New Englander; he was not some immortal writer, he was just an ordinary nutty old man.

“Now that he’s dead,” I said to Carol, “maybe this will put an end to all the speculation about what he’s been writing for the past forty years.”

Given that Salinger’s last published story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” was unreadable crap, you can feel pretty sure he wrote nothing of value after that. But I don’t think Salinger will be allowed to rest in peace. His literary executors will be tempted to follow the path blazed by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son, and cobble together scraps of left-over writing into bad books that will sell tens of thousands of copies. Right now, I’m praying that someone will burn all Salinger’s unpublished manuscripts before they are inflicted on the public. Let the old crank die a decent death.

Significantly, Salinger’s literary agents released a statement in which they stated there won’t be a funeral or memorial service. There are those who want no final end to his life. There are those who hope to turn J. D. Salinger into a zombie, neither alive nor dead, putrescent but tottering forward into a century in which he does not belong.