Friday, January 29, 2010

What J.D. Salinger Taught Me about Literary Use of the F-Word

Posted by Roy Peter Clark on Poynter Online Writing Tools:

When I first heard of the death of reclusive author J.D. Salinger, who was 91, the news reminded me of the first time I used the F-word.
The year was 1956. I was 8 years old. One of the Masterson brothers told me a joke, and he thought it was so funny I ran home to tell my mother. She didn't laugh and made me repeat it to my father. Things did not go well.
I know exactly where I first encountered the F-word in print. I was a freshman in high school, and the book was called "The Catcher in the Rye," a work still on many banned-books lists, not just because of the F-word. I now own six copies of the book, including my high school edition in which I underlined each use of the F-word and other obscenities.
I consider "Catcher" a true gift from Salinger, a literary legacy I can still savor, in spite of my subsequent disillusionment with the author's eccentric isolationism, disdain for his readers, and weird attraction to girls a fraction of his age.
Salinger used the F-word in a perfect literary context for me at that time of my first reading, about 1963. During his pilgrimage around New York City, young Holden Caulfield bumps into the word as graffiti in the stairwell of his little sister's school and again in the Egyptian tombs of the Museum of Natural History.

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