Thursday, January 28, 2010

Greats and Greatness

As some of you may already know, J.D. Salinger has passed away at the ripe old age of 91.

Most of you may know Salinger from Catcher in the Rye. Who doesn't know the infamous story of Holden Caufield, who believes the world is full of phonies and never wishes to grow up? Most of us read the story in school, where we were introduced to other classics such as 1984 and the works of William Shakespeare.

I did not like Catcher in the Rye. I didn't like the way it was done, I didn't like Salinger's narrative style, I didn't like Holden Caufield and as a plot driven writer I couldn't stand the fact that Holden, although he had many conflicts, never had a real solid plot.

Does that mean I didn't understand the themes Salinger was trying to present? No. Does it mean that since I don't apprecate this classic that I'm a bumbling fool? No.

I think the term of being a great writer is often thrown around. What constitues a great writer? I consider Shakespeare to be one of the "greats" because I adore his work. I have a friend who will fight tooth and nail about this because he does not believe that Shakespeare is a great. He believes that Shakepeare's work is outdated and like "trying to eat plastic." He's very intelligent and has read and understood Shakespeare, but it doesn't resonate with him.

So what constitues greatness?

Some will argue that Meg Cabot is One of the Greats, not J.D. Salinger. I consider James Patterson a hack, but a lot of peopel worship him.

Again, where does it all lie. Does greatness involve the amount of people who enjoy your story? Does that make Stephanie Meyer great despite the amount of people who hate her? And what about enjoying a story, when you find a book you absolutely love, does that make that author one of the Greats?

I think the answer to most of these questions is no. When you enjoy a book, you praise the book, but you don't hoist that author up on a pedistol and proclaim them as the greatest author of all times. And I think many acedemics would argue that SM is not a great author.

So what is it that constitues greatness? Is it lasting power? The loner people appreciate your work the longer you are considered a great writer?

No. It's what rings true with you. It's what resonates with the very pit of your soul.

Salinger's story resonated with so many people across fifty years. In the instance of Holden Caufield, it made them feel like they weren't alone. There was someone else out there who felt the same loneliness and depression, who felt that everyone around them was fake, who felt lost in a sea of actions or moments that didn't seem to string together to create an overarching theme or meaning.

But for me? It was just a whiny little kid who needed to stop being such a baby and actually do something.

Hamlet rang through with me. Here was another whiny kid who wouldn't take action, and yet I identified with him more than I did Holden. Why? What makes that resonance? What makes a reader feel that appreciation for a character and make them buzz with excitement? This goes beyound making a character sympathetic. This is about making him so real, so very powerful that a reader will actually ache to be that person or help them.

I think for someone to achieve greatness, they have to summon that resonation within so many people so it begins to grow until it become an orchestra of sound. They have to make something beautiful.

RIP J.D. Salinger. Whether you are truly a great, you did contribute something truly wonderful to a world you despised so much.



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