Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP J.D. Salinger: Remembering the writer at Heritage Auctions

Jan. 28, 2010
Written by Joe Fay

In early April 2008 I wrote a letter to the legendary, and legendarily reclusive, J. D. Salinger.

Like almost anyone who has done the same in the last 30 years (and probably long before that), I never got a reply. I wrote him that I thought he was one of the finest writers I had ever encountered. I wanted to relate to him that his fiction had helped shape my worldview, and to a certain degree my personality.

Mainly, I was writing to inform him that my wife and I had just named our newborn twins Franny and Zooey, after the eponymous characters in two Salinger short stories, published together in book form in 1961. So it is especially sad to hear of his passing this morning of natural causes at the age of 91.

My wife and I are Salinger fans, each in our own way, as are a great many children of the middle and late twentieth century. We were both introduced to Holden Caulfield in high school, again as a lot of people our age were, in Salinger's landmark novel The Catcher in the Rye.

We grew up on famous stories about Mark David Chapman's rabid fascination with the book, and how it helped tip him over the edge of sanity after which he murdered John Lennon. And over the years, we've listened to the stories, with varying levels of amusement and consternation, of Salinger's legal battles with his daughter and several other authors who've tried to publish works based in the Salinger universe.

Considering where I work and what I do, thinking of Salinger also reminds me of the wonderful selection of letters and books we've sold here at Heritage Auctions relating to the great writer, including a handful of nice copies of The Catcher in the Rye. This is one of the high points and touchstones of modern fiction. It has been, is, and will continue to be the most aggressively collected of his works, and there's no telling how high in value the VERY short list of signed copies of this it will go. We've also auctioned a number of signed documents and letters, most notably a very interesting three-page 1981 typed letter signed "Jerry."

We even have a small assortment of Salinger books in our upcoming February 11-12 Rare Books Auction in Beverly Hills. Included in the auction are five lots, ranging from a very nice copy of Catcher to a wonderful copy of the rare first issue of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction. None of them are signed, but then again, very few of Salinger's books are at all.

I've already had two friends ask me what today's news will do to values for Salinger material. Books, even rare first editions, will probably not appreciate considerably more than usual. For signed items, it's difficult to pin down exactly, but the short answer is that they're going up. Salinger is a notoriously hard autograph to get. Letters, manuscripts, and even clipped signatures demand a high premium in the market, and after today, and in my opinion, prices will spike for awhile and settle in at a higher plateau that they're at now. How much higher? Who's to say?

I think part of all of us who call ourselves Salinger fans hoped that one day he would snap out of his self-imposed isolation and re-enter the world, as if he had been under a magic spell since the early 1970s. Then, maybe, JUST maybe, we could have a letter returned or a book signed.
Alas, it is not to be. It was probably a pipe dream anyway. So, all I'm left with are his books (the important part, really). I have them all at home, including a first edition of Franny and Zooey, which my daughters will hopefully fight over some day. My wife and I will continue to cherish Salinger's fiction as we've always done.

Rest in peace, Jerome. We will miss you. Most of all, a lot of us will miss that we missed you, and that we never got to see or meet or interact with you at all, for Chrissake!

-Joe Fay

(If you've read this far, then you know that Joe named his twins Franny and Zooey after Salinger's book, which should tell you why I prefer he have the opening words on Salinger's passing. The reclusive master obviously had a great impact on my Heritage colleague and I have the utmost respect for his sentiments.

It is an odd feeling I have writing this on the day Salinger dies - it has seemed, in fact, that he has been dead for years, but he was only gone. Occasionally something would surface, or a friend of a friend has a story about friends that tried to find Salinger in New Hampshire and risked the wrath of the locals and the cops. Little towns, we learned, fiercely protect their celebrities. Now he is truly dead and the next few years will surely see the in-depth documentation of his last three decades. I hope there are a few books hidden away in the cold New england state.

I, as so many, was very moved as a young man by Catcher In The Rye, and now, as a grown man, a father, and with years of experience behind me, I find the very deep sadness behind the rebelliousness of Holden Caulfield much more poignant than the rebellion itself. More than that - with a four-year-old girl wrapping me around her finger - I find his drawing of Holden's little sister especially poignant. She is the ultiamte instrument of his final unraveling. He's undone by the simplicity of her love and the sincerity of her attachment to him - at least that's how I read it now... And how I'll read it tonight before I go to bed.

The world lost a great and difficult one today. Perhaps Salinger now has the peace he so desperately wanted when he was still in human form. - Noah Fleisher)

To leave a comment, click on the title of this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment