That’s what a friend said after he learned of the recent death of a great writer for the second time in as many days. You’ve probably heard by now that both Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger passed away this week. Their deaths should not come as a surprise – at 87 and 91 respectively, Zinn and Salinger both lived long lives — but should let us remember their achievements, and the ways they impacted our lives.
Known best for his A People’s History of the United States, Dr. Zinn had a long and accomplished career that included teaching at historically-black Spelman College, universities in Europe, and finally at Boston University. Zinn was called a truth-teller and lover of humanity. He challenged history as often presented in mainstream texts, and believed the experiences of common folks to be at least as important as those of princes and presidents. He was raised in Brooklyn, NY, and before going to college on the GI Bill had worked as a pipefitter and then Air Force bombardier in World War II, which shaped his beliefs about war.
“Bunch of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger” is the headline chosen by the satirical The Onion, for its humorous meta-commentary on Salinger and A Catcher in the Rye in particular. If you haven’t read this classic dealing with teenage angst, you’ve missed a great American story (but Preston Library’s copy is checked out – try some of Salinger’s short stories instead ). I learned of Salinger’s death when I saw the New York Times’ obituary. The image shown with his headshot is the same book cover as the copy that I read over and over, yet haven’t seen since my early 20s. The small volume, held together by then with a purple rubber band, hardly left my backpack as I alternately tip-toed and ran from childhood to adulthood.
Do you remember reading Catcher, or did Zinn change your perspective?