J.D. Salinger: Recluse?

I wonder if I’m becoming a recluse? I work at home. I fret constantly now about running outside in the dark of the early a.m., figuring that I am only a sliver of ice away from a broken hip or worse. And on days when it’s cold and snowing — well, don’t look for me to be out and about much. Burr.

Maybe it’s just the culmination of senior moments during the winter months here in NE Ohio. But I wonder what it really means to be labeled a recluse?

That was a common description of J.D. Salinger. He died last week at his home in Cornish, N.H. Here’s the NYT obit: “J.D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91.

Like millions of others, I read “Catcher in the Rye” — but I’m certainly no expert on his writing, literary legacy and so on. Yet like many others, I excepted the view that Mr. Salinger was a recluse.

Was he?

Of the articles I read following his death last week, I actually find this one the most interesting. It certainly challenges some commonly held perceptions — and if accurate, it presents one of those lessons that things might not be as they seem, or as they are portrayed. It’s written by Katie Zezima in the NYT, “J.D. Salinger a Recluse? Well, Not to His Neighbors.” Here’s from the article:

N.H. — His most famous character, Holden Caulfield, said it was impossible to find a place that is “nice and peaceful,” but J. D. Salinger may have found something close for himself in the woods of this tiny town.

Here Mr. Salinger was just Jerry, a quiet man who arrived early to church suppers, nodded hello while buying a newspaper at the general store and wrote a thank-you note to the fire department after it extinguished a blaze and helped save his papers and writings.

Despite his reputation, Mr. Salinger “was not a recluse,” said Nancy Norwalk, a librarian at the Philip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield, which Mr. Salinger would frequent. “He was a towns- person.”


Maybe it’s how you define recluse.

I guess I should try to grapple with that before ending this post. But I have to head outside to walk the dog and go to the store.

4 responses to “J.D. Salinger: Recluse?

  1. I can’t speak to the question of whether you (or Salinger) qualify as a recluse, but I will offer a cautionary note regarding your jogging in winter.
    A good friend and former colleague of mine went out one morning last December to collect his mail from the box at the end of his drive. Although it was his habit to double-time down the hall where we had our offices, he was no jogger. He slipped on a small patch of ice, fell backwards and struck his head. He sustained a massive concussion from which he never regained consciousness. The last good act of this good man was to have arranged under such circumstances for his organs to be harvested and donated. In other words, don’t let some machismo ideal do you in.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I try to keep things in perspective, but I do take seriously the possibility of falling these days while walking or running.

    I’ve run outside in good weather and bad for years — fortunately without any problem. But during the last two years I have slipped and fallen. I wasn’t injured — but it does make you think about what could happen.

    And certainly a terrible tragedy involving your friend and colleague.

  3. I read that article as well and found it really interesting. As a writer and also someone who works from home, I often feel like a pelican in the wilderness 🙂 But I thought the article was nice in a sense that Salinger maybe was a recluse in terms of how artists have to grossly market themselves these days– always doing readings, self-promotion, etc. He pretty obviously loathed all of that, and lived what he loathed! And at the same time, had a seemingly nice little private life. I personally really admire that, and I hope I can be that kind of “recluse” some day.

    • I thought the NYT article was interesting in a number of ways — not the least of which was that it challenged the commonly held perception of Mr. Salinger. And I agree with you about how ideal it is/would be to have a private life while maintaining some sense of community. That strikes me as what Salinger was looking for — and quite possibly found.

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