Literature and the People Lament
Today is a sad day indeed.
Sometimes people die. Or rather, sometimes heroes of mine die and I feel a bit lost. These are often people who I have never met or seen, but still had tremendous impact in my life. Sometimes they are singers, song writers, sports stars or politicians. This happens often enough. Every couple of months some new person will pass on and I will feel a bit sad for a few days.
Today however, I learned about two brilliant people who have passed away. Quite a double whammy.
J.D. Salinger passed away late Wednesday night. He wrote several short stories and novels, but will always be known and loved and hated by his only major success, The Catcher in the Rye. Upon its publication and major success, Salinger hid out, becoming a basic recluse from his fame and popularity. He never wrote another novel. Catcher and its main character Holden Caufield were not something that first attracted me. I read it in high school knowing that it was one of “the new classics” but was pretty turned off by the whole book. It was not until later in life, toward the end of high school and into college that I really came to love the book. Holden’s story is everyone’s story. Especially so for the young college guy. He feels without purpose, direction and is unsure of his future, and even in going back to the places he was once comfortable, he no longer fits in. Such was my experience in the early days of college. I had left my small town and what I had always thought of as its backwardness and gone off to my private college. Coming home wasn’t coming home any more because more and more I felt at odds with the place I came from.
Until recently I read Catcher once a year. I think I need to get back into that habit. Salinger was 91.
The other person whose loss I lament is Howard Zinn. Zinn is most popular for his book A People’s History of the United States which he has been editing and adding to since his first draft in 1980. The book contains many of the stories and points of view that you don’t see in your history books, history classes, or on the the history channel. The book blew my mind when I read it in my sophomore year of college while writing a research paper on Jimmy Carter.
Zinn went into World War II but was placed in several situations that were morally compromising, including what he viewed as an unnessicery trial-run of a new substance called napalm that killed some soldiers and many civilians. These experiences led him to become a pacifist and a staunch anti-war activist. His main stand was that most wars and actions in war are politically motivated. This is a theme that runs throughout A People’s History. Zinn changed the way I see a lot of things: politics, history, war, peace, human rights and minority struggles. In short, everything.