J.D. Salinger’s “Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” has been leaked

Four years ago (!) I wrote a post about hard to find, unpublished short stories by J.D. Salinger, including his short story “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls.”

Since then I’ve taught a few English Lit courses that have had several of Salinger’s short stories and Catcher in the Rye on the syllabus. Also (more sadly) J.D. Salinger passed away, and because of this, there has been some news about his estate: some of his unpublished stuff is going to come out. (Whoa.)

And now, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” has leaked, and it’s online. (Double whoa.)

I find “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” interesting because it sheds a lot of light on Salinger’s more famous novel, Catcher. The story is about Holden’s brother, Allie (called “Kenneth” in the story). Allie’s death has totally traumatized Holden, and this colours his inability to grow up or let other children “fall” into experience.

Here’s one bit I think is interesting, from Holden’s letter to his older brother, Vincent (the narrator of “Bowling Balls”):

“This place stinks. I never saw so many rats. You have to make stuff out of lether [sic] and go for hikes. They got a contest between the reds and the whites. I am supposed to be a white. I am no lousy white.”

“I am no lousy white” is pretty great, especially compared to what Holden says in Catcher in the Rye.

When Mr. Spencer insists that life is a game, Holden thinks to himself, “Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it’s a game, all right–I’ll admit that. but if you get on the other side, where there aren’t any hot-shots, then what’s a game about it? Nothing. No game.”

In other words, Holden feels like shit for 1) actually being on the winning side (recall his guilt about having a “bourgeois” suitcase) and 2) because he’s not on the side of innocence (white) but rather experience (red).

It’s a whole other blog post, but what I like about Catcher is that you’re supposed to think Holden’s a total jerk, but you’re supposed to sympathize with him anyway.

Why? Because your problem sympathizing with Holden (a phony) is the same problem Holden has sympathizing with everyone else.

It’s like there are three levels of engagement with the novel.

First:

Holden’s great! The world is full of phonies. Screw everything! I am a unique and beautiful snowflake! *insert impotent cry of rage at how dumb society totally is*

(You know those crazy people who go on murder sprees and then Catcher in the Rye is, like, found in their jacket pocket? Yeah, they’re on this level.)

But then you realize something:

Hey wait a minute, Holden’s just a jerk! A total hypocrite! Screw him! That phony!

And, finally:

Oh, wait. I’m supposed to sympathize with him anyway, just the way he should really grow up and sympathize with everyone he calls phony. Right.

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HBO’s Enlightened: some intitial thoughts on the Pilot

I just watched HBO’s pilot for Enlightened, after some suggestions from the Onion’s A/V club that apparently the second season is brilliant.  And frankly, I really liked just the pilot.

Dern’s character, Amy Jellico, is really nuanced, and the show is walking a very fine line with her, balancing satire and empathy very well. Like, you look at that title, “Enlightened,” and thinks, is it just an instance of dramatic irony? Well, no, of course not. First, Amy’s “enlightenment” isn’t completely trite, nor is it totally off the mark. She’s not wrong, per se, even if she can be totally insufferable, manipulative, and solipsistic (you know, the opposite of enlightened). The title probably also refers not just to her own change in Hawaii, but to the journey she actually begins — rather than achieves — in the pilot.

For example, you can see how Amy’s experience with the sea turtle in Enlightened’s pilot is kinda trite, and why someone like her ex-husband would scoff at such an experience. After all, don’t we, a bit? But you can also understand how that would be very profound for her, and think, hey, maybe that isn’t so crazy. Even if it is just a very surface-level engagement with various New Agey bullshit, does that make it totally wrong?

Here’s J.D. Salinger summing up the same thing in his short story, “Teddy”:

Life is a gift horse in my opinion.

[…]

“I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all that,” Teddy said. “It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.”

It’s the same thing, only in “Teddy” we don’t laugh. (We’re puzzled and confused, as though we’ve read a Zen koan rather than a short story.)

I’ve actually seen comparisons between Enlightened and HBO’s The Wire. My opening guess (again, having only seen the pilot, so take it for what it’s worth) regarding any Wire comparisons would be to say that The Wire is to the realities of city life as Enlightened is to the the realities of corporate America. Amy Jellicoe is McNulty, but also the opposite of McNulty. Someone can correct me on this quite probably insane analogy.

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Holden Caulfield Offers Some Random Thoughts About Battlestar Galactica

  • All those Cylons, they’re just a bunch of phonies. What’s their “plan,” anyways, for God’s sake? They don’t have a plan.
  • Every time the pilots walk in and out of the ready room they touch this black and white photo of a viper pilot on his goddamn knees or something. It’s funny, you know, but it’s also kind of sad.
  • I’d like to get real sexy with Number Six, I really would. I’m not oversexed or anything, but I can see why Gaius Baltar really likes her. Old Baltar, he’s a real sexy bastard.
  • Christ, I think I know how Lee and old Adama feel about Zak, Lee’s dead brother. I had a brother who died named Allie. Allie was a wizard. Allie never would have failed flight school, like Zak did. Boy, what do you do when you find out something like that about your dead brother, though, and that that’s why he died? Christ.
  • You know what I love? How all the corners of all the pieces of paper in the show are cut off. Every single one of them. That kills me. What’s the goddamn point of that, anyway? It kills me, it really does.
  • Sometimes when there’s a bad episode, and the writers know it’s bad, they’ll present everything in reverse order. They’ll show you an exciting scene right from the goddamn climax, and then jump back twenty-four hours or two days or something, as if that creates a bunch of extra tension. It’s so phony. I bet that’s what D.B. is doing in Hollywood right now. D.B.’s my brother. He’s out there prostituting himself, writing a bunch of television shows backwards.
  • I just watched the episode where Lee and Kara finally sleep with each other. In the movies, you’re always supposed to feel sexy when the two actors finally get together, like when Clark Gable finally gets with Carole Lombard. But I didn’t feel very sexy when Lee and Kara got together on New Caprica. I felt much more depressed than sexy, really.
  • Jeez, this fourth season, it depresses the hell out of me. Old Bill Adama, he’s just depressing. He’s not a bad guy or anything, but you don’t have to be a bad guy to be depressing. All you have to do to depress somebody is go from being the hardest, sternest and most dependable old guy in the fleet to puking all over yourself in your own goddamn bathroom right before you start crying. That’s depressing, it really is.
  • When Adama sat on that hill in the series finale, and Roslin had finally passed away because of her cancer, and you knew Adama and Roslin wouldn’t be able to live in that cabin together, I realized I was crying. I really was. But then after that scene there was this goddamn bit with Head-Six and Head-Baltar and some dancing robots for Chrissake! It was all really stupid and phony, so I got up and turned off the DVD, but I was still sort of crying. I swear to God I was. I don’t know why, but I was.
  • Everyone’s been asking me about the ending, especially this one literary academic guy who focuses in psychoanalysis. Even D.B. keeps asking me about it, but I don’t know what the hell to say to anybody. I sort of miss the show, now that it’s over. Even old “Black Market” and “The Woman King,” for instance. I think I even miss all those goddamn episodes that were edited backwards. It’s funny. You think you don’t care about a show during its final seasons, but then you start writing about it, and you start missing everything about the show all over again.
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Some audiobooks and other audio stuff

Simon Prebble’s reading of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is quite good. I’ve been listening to it on my runs and while I’m doing mindless tasks like making dinner or cleaning.

The Literary Theory course by Paul Fry from Yale (on iTunesU) is also enjoyable. I’ve been listening to undergraduate literature courses and it’s actually quite pleasant. Half the time you’re sorta nodding and thinking, “Yep, yep, mm hm, that’s definitely a thing that’s true,” and the other half you’re sorta thinking, “Oh yeah, I guess that’s also true. Neat.”

Speaking of undergraduate courses, Tim Morton has put up a bunch of them on his blog. There are also some of his courses available on iTunesU. I turned the courses on his blog into iTunes playlists and set the options for each mp3 to “remember playback position,” which accomplishes pretty much the same thing as iTunesU or turning them into an audiobook.

Listening to literature courses is a lot easier to justify than listening to books about magic in regency England, but, like, whatever, man. Reading Susanna Clarke makes me want to read Ursula K Le Guin. I haven’t read her since grade 5 (or 6?), but now I sorta get the idea of magic as a metaphor for all the weird things that language does, and I want to think about that some more.

I also listened to 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami recently, but I didn’t really like it. I thought both the story and the (quite dramatized) readings were a bit overwrought. There are several scenes where a character cries, and cries and cries and cries, or she weeps, she wept for this, and she wept for that, she wept for all the blah blah blah, and all I can think is, gee, it’s nice that this character is going through this huge emotional catharsis, but, well, I’m just not feeling anything. I’ve felt much more powerful emotions from reading J.D. Salinger short stories where everything is very understated. (“A Girl I Knew” is still my favourite short story, ever. It’s too bad that it is now pretty hard to find.)

The only other Murakami I’ve read is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is non-fiction, and I thought was much better. Every review of 1Q84 I’ve seen also seems to indicate that 1Q84 isn’t as good as Murakami’s other stuff, so I’m not going to write him off.

However, I’m running out of credits on Audible so I don’t know what I’m going to listen to next. I have to make it count.

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Unpublished, hard-to-find short stories by J.D. Salinger

Back in high school, one of my English teachers gave us “Teddy” by J.D. Salinger to read and then talk about in class, and at the end of the term he put Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” on the final exam. (And on a high school English lit final that’s just cruel, considering how perplexing that story is.) After that, I started reading the rest of J.D. Salinger’s short stories, and I fell in love with them, especially all of those involving the Glass family. My absolute favourite, though, isn’t a Glass family story; it’s “A Girl I Knew.” The ending just leaves you (well, me) feeling completely empty and emotionally drained.

I came across an article about Salinger’s Nine Stories on JSTOR, which describes the ending of Salinger’s stories:

“In lieu of the customary author photo–which Salinger had refused since the third print run of The Catcher in the Rye–was a Zen koan: We know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping? A koan has no right answer; it’s designed to float in the mind of the Zen aspirant. While the riddle may be approached from all sides, often over the course of many years, the essence of the conundrum remains insoluble. This seems to mirror Salinger’s mission with Nine Stories: to create engaging paradoxes or puzzles that, at their core, both reflect life yet refuse to be a part of it.” (Smith 641)

[You can read a bunch of his stories, including all the ones I just mentioned, here.]

Anyway, I got to the point where I’d read all the short stories by Salinger that were available. Later, I even read one in its original formatting from the CD version of The New Yorker archives–it wasn’t that exciting. However, there are a bunch of stories I haven’t read, because Salinger is, of course, a famous recluse. Has he spent the last 50 years writing? Who knows. (There is evidence to suggest he has written something, or was writing something at some point during his seclusion.) But there a bunch of “lost stories” that are available to be read, assuming you are willing to go to the one library that has them, sit alone in a room, read them, and then leave. The Dead Caulfieds website on Mr. Salinger has good info on these harder to find works.

In particular, I’d really love to read “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls” (Dead Caulfields summary of it here) and “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans” (again: Dead Caulfields summary). They’re not about the Glass Family, but they are about the Caulfield one from Catcher in the Rye. The provide insight that you obviously can’t get from the book alone. Holden Caulfield has little to do with these stories; Vincent Caulfield is the main “subject” in each (he narrates one and is at least a primary character in the other). In Catcher in the Rye we know Vincent as “D.B.”

After looking around the net a bit, I got the idea in my head that I’d spend a few days and drive down to Princeton’s Firestone Library, the one place where you can read them. They have a collection of unpublished Salinger materials. You have to give them a bunch of ID, then sit in a room with the story–no pens, no pencils–and read it, then leave. I called up the Firestone Library one time, asked about it, and whomever I was talking to said, “Yeah, yeah, look: just find the call number and come in.” Well, I never did.

The thing is, I think some solid academic criticism about these stories would be really cool. The problem is that reading a story sitting in a room, taking no notes, and then going home to immediately write down as many thoughts as you can, is a really inconvenient way to try and construct a critical argument. Perhaps if you were allowed to take notes as soon as you left the room that would be a little better, but still.

It remains one of my fantasies to really examine Salinger’s entire body of work from a critical viewpoint, including his lost short stories, his letters and manuscripts. There is so much intertextual stuff between his stories that you really need to have the whole picture in front of you, even if you’re not going to try to create an argument that encompasses the “whole picture.” Who knows, maybe one day.

Cited Works:

Smith, Dominic. “Salinger’s Nine Stories: Fifty Years Later.” The Antioch Review 61.4 (Autumn, 2003): 639-439. JSTOR. Web. 6 Nov. 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/4614550>.

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