Magazine article The Christian Century

Work Ethic

Magazine article The Christian Century

Work Ethic

Article excerpt

I READ The Catcher in the Rye when I was in college. J. D. Salinger's book, published in 1951, has sold more than 65 million copies and still sells 250,000 a year. Catcher became required reading for a whole generation. The antihero of the book, Holden Caulfield, remains a cult hero for some.

A few years ago I performed a wedding for a couple that was so enamored with the character of Holden Caulfield that they called each other "Holden," asked me to read their favorite passages from Catcher instead of delivering a homily, and wanted to refer to each other as "Holden" when they said their vows. I managed to talk them out of the latter. I did agree to use an excerpt from Catcher as an illustration in my homily.

Salinger, who died in January, lived a very private life after the success of The Catcher in the Rye. Besides Catcher he published only one collection of stories and one slim novel. He moved to a small town in New Hampshire and avoided the press. In one of his last interviews to the New York Times in 1974 he said, "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful.... Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write for myself and my own pleasure."

Why didn't Salinger produce more? That mystery has intrigued me, and I was delighted to see Garrison Keillor address this issue in one of his recent newspaper columns. The topic was hard work, or lack of the same. On Salinger, Keillor commented: "No American author ever held onto such fame for so long for having done so little work. …

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