Posted in Short Stories

J. D. Salinger: Slight Rebellion Off Madison (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 32)

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While riding in Fifth Avenue buses, girls who knew Holden often thought they saw him walking past Saks’ or Altman’s or Lord & Taylor’s, but it was usually somebody else.

For fans of J. D. Salinger, does his short story “Slight Rebellion Off Madison”, which would later become his novel The Catcher In The Rye, come off as a little disappointing?

For me, not necessarily.

Is it everything one could hope for as a Salinger fan?

No, not really.

According to Wikipedia, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison” was published in The New Yorker on December 21, 1946 and eventually morphed into chapter 17 of The Catcher in the Rye.


For those who have already read Salinger’s more famous novel, not much new pops up in this story. Holden Caulfield’s middle name is Morrisey. I didn’t know that or at least don’t remember that being mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye.

In Holden’s rant against New York, I did find one of his complaints amusing. He doesn’t like having to always take an elevator down before going out. He wants to just go out.

I find the story interesting more from an historical standpoint than anything else. For first time Salinger readers, I would recommend the entire novel as opposed to this story.

I discovered “Slight Rebellion Off Madison” in a new collection I own: Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I chose Salinger’s story when I drew a wild card, the Two of Spades, for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Conrad Aiken: Silent Snow, Secret Snow

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Until I happened to pick up a collection of short stories called The Secret Sharer and Other Great Stories,  I had never heard of Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”.  A few quick looks on the internet gave me the impression that everyone has heard of this story and that it’s required reading for many high school students.  I must have been sick that day.  Or maybe I was daydreaming.

Picking the Eight of Diamonds for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2014 project led me to this story that I’ve missed out on reading all these years.  After reading it, I can understand it’s popularity and the literary value it possesses.  Something about Paul Hasleman’s “condition” reminds me of J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.  The same alienation theme that runs through The Catcher in the Rye gets the short story treatment by Aiken.

The short introduction included with this story mentions the influence of Sigmund Freud.  I don’t know much about Freud, but a certain psychological influence appears to exist.  Paul enjoys the snow – it’s sound and it’s feel – the only problem is that it’s not really there.  This wintry daydream to which Paul retreats frustrates his parents and his teachers.  In Salinger-esque style, Aiken portrays the adults in the story, including a medical doctor, as unfeeling and completely lacking in understanding.  Of course, they don’t understand Paul because they can’t see the snow.

Conrad Aiken

(I’ve mentioned J. D. Salinger; however, just for clarification, this is a photograph of Conrad Aiken from

The reader is inside Paul’s mind and can see and feel and hear the snow, but the reader also knows it’s not real.  This inside knowledge lets the reader ask some questions that are never completely answered.  Is Paul suffering from mental illness?  Is his mind splitting away from reality?  Or is he daydreaming?  Does he simply see the world through snow, when others don’t?  Is that necessarily bad?  All good questions.

Unlike Salinger’s flippant and straight forward prose, Aiken uses a more lyrical style as when a hissing voice speaks to Paul from the snow and wind:

“Ah, but just wait!  Wait till we are alone together!  Then I will begin to tell you something new!  Something white! something cold! something sleepy!  something of cease and peace, and the long bright curve of space.”

To anyone who, like me, has never read or heard of this story, I would say give it a try.  It’s short, thought-provoking, and well-written.  The poetry of Aiken’s writing sets it apart from simply a story of psychology.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Fiction

Holden Caulfield: An Old Soul?

The Catcher in the Rye

Yes, at times Holden Caulfield is a whiny little dude – typical of many teenagers; however, I can’t help but find pieces of an old soul in him.  In recently rereading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I came across a passage that I had underlined when I was sixteen revealing Holden’s thoughts as he visits a museum.  I remember using it in the oral report I gave in tenth grade.  Apparently, it had held some significance to me then and I found it rather odd that it continued to have significance all these years (actually decades) later:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.  Nobody’d move.  You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs…Nobody’d be different.  The only thing that would be different would be you.  Not that you’d be so much older or anything.  It wouldn’t be that, exactly.  You’d just be different, that’s all.  You’d have an overcoat on this time.  Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner.  Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger.  Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom.  Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them.  I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean.  And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

Something about the passage makes me forget Holden is only a teenager.  When I was in grade school, my class would visit the Dayton Museum of Natural History on a regular basis.  And, yes, everything was always the same.  I can still remember scenes and images from those visits.  I’m sure they wouldn’t be there, now (although I can imagine).  Even if I could go back and see everything the way it was, I would be different – and most of that difference would be due to years, perhaps not just years, but life itself – that happens during the years.

Reading a favorite novel, thirty years later, can also make me realize what’s different – and what’s still the same.

Posted in Fiction

J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye (and ramblings about banned books)

I first read J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye when I was sixteen and I’ve been cussing like a sailor ever since.

No, I haven’t.  I’m just kidding. (Really – I don’t).  But in honor of Banned Book week, I thought I would reread it.  It’s been a long time since I was sixteen and I was curious whether the novel would hold up as well now that I’m an adult – and a much older adult.  I have teenagers of my own, now.  I even read the same copy that I had bought at a Walden’s Bookstore when  I was sixteen.

The Catcher in the Rye

I think my passion for being free to read the books that I want to read comes from having read a few books like The Catcher in the Rye that are surrounded by controversy.  When I read them, I found the novels to be significantly deeper than their critics gave them credit. Sometimes the expression “missing the forest for the trees” comes to mind when I hear why some would want to ban books.  For some reason, when I was sixteen, I could see passed the profanity to find the character of Holden Caulfield and Salinger’s writing style fascinating.

In the case of Salinger’s novel, the protagonist was the same age as myself when I read it the first time.  I have no doubt that much of the novel’s ability to resonate with people has to do with the fact that we were all teenagers once – struggling to figure out our place in the world when the world doesn’t always seem to make sense.  I remembered Holden’s siblings D.B., a writer in Hollywood, and Phoebe, grabbing for the gold ring on the carousel.  I didn’t even remotely remember that he had a younger brother, Allie, who had died.  All these years later, Holden’s attempts to deal with his brother’s death brought a new sense of depth to his musings.

I’ve been thinking about books that high school students read.  The Catcher in the Rye may or may not still be on the reading lists, but, in my opinion, it’s a novel that has all the makings of great literature in a way that allows teenagers to relate to it.  I recently read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and discovered it to be fantastic; however, I don’t think I would have had the appreciation for the story and Eliot’s writing when I was sixteen.  I’m not  sure I would have been able to put forth the effort to read it the way I could now that I’m a more mature reader.

I’m probably rambling as much as Holden does in the novel.  One of his traits that I’ve remembered over the years is his dislike of movies.  When I was a teenager and even for most of my adulthood, I’ve enjoyed movies, but in recent years, I’ve discovered that I’ve become less and less interested in them.  I was a little surprised that this gave me more of an affinity with Holden than even when I was a teenager.

And I can’t finish this post without a few words about the banning of books.  I fully support the right of parents to monitor what their kids read – especially younger kids.  At the same time, when I think about how much I enjoyed Salinger’s story (and it was the story I enjoyed, the profanity was part of Holden’s character – but it wasn’t the story), I can’t imagine not letting my  16 or 17 year-old read The Catcher in the Rye.  I’m grateful to my public high school for including this and some other banned books on our reading list. Nobody was forced to read these books, but they were available for anyone who wanted to. I believe in the freedom to read and I believe in the freedom not to read.  I’m fairly comfortable in my ability to make that decision for myself.  I don’t need any “governing body” making it for me.