Local woman met Salinger

A UF professor calls him the "patron saint of the crazies."

Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:19 p.m.

A recluse for much of his life, J.D. Salinger wasn't keen on talking with the media.

But Gainesville's Plaza Coffee Shop co-owner Karol Alves, 66, was one of the lucky ones.

Back in 1962, when Salinger was in his early 40s and Alves was 17 and a senior in high school, the reclusive writer asked to meet her and another writer from her high school newspaper, the Jabberwocky.

They met at his house, in nearby Cornish, N.H. The house was two stories, Alves said, with a big gate and barbed wire topping the fence. "He was paranoid," she recalled, reflecting on the famed author of the classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye," who died on Wednesday.

Alves said that, once inside, she couldn't help but be amazed at the amount of literature he had lying around - stacked from floor to ceiling in six or seven rooms and in the hallways, she said.

"Except for a public library, I never saw so many books and Life magazines," she said.

She brought Salinger a double chocolate cake her mother had made, which they ate, and they talked for a few hours about lots of things, she said, but not much about him.

During their talk, Salinger did say he was disappointed his works had become so controversial, leading parents to forbid their kids from reading them.

"He said it made him feel bad because he thought that he was writing something extremely valuable," she said.

Salinger's works would later become even more controversial when John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, said the shooting was motivated by Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." And John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan, reportedly carried a copy of the book around.

"He ended up becoming the patron saint of the crazies," said UF English professor Andrew Gordon. Gordon said he didn't think Salinger himself was crazy, only sad and mixed up.

"It's not surprising he could write so well about sad and mixed-up characters like Holden Caulfield," he said, referring to the protagonist in "The Catcher in the Rye."

Salinger's death, Gordon said, marks the passing of a generation of great American writers who were veterans of World War II. Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut, who both died in 2007, were also members of that generation, he said.

"It's kind of sad," Gordon said. "But, in a way, Salinger died a long time ago. He just retreated from the world."

Coupled with the sadness, however, is a glimmer of hope. Salinger's passing brings with it the possibility that his unpublished manuscripts will finally see the light of day, Gordon said. The last piece of Salinger's work to be published was in 1965.

"He kept writing; he just stopped publishing," Gordon said. "He saw publishing as an invasion of his privacy."

William McKeen, chairman of UF's undergraduate journalism department, said it will be interesting to see if future generations of youth flock to his work as they have been doing.

"Every new generation is almost issued a copy of 'Catcher in the Rye,' " McKeen said.

"It's that significant of a book."

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