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J.D. Salinger, reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye, died Wednesday at the New Hampshire home where he'd lived since the 1950s. He was 91. In addition to Catcher in the Rye, his most famous and best-selling work, Salinger wrote the short story collection Nine Stories and two novella compilations, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. In his later decades, however, he became better known for his self-imposed seclusion and bizarre personal habits than for his writing. Salinger left Manhattan for Cornish, N.H. in 1953 and rarely left or wrote again.

Some early reactions to the news of his death chose to highlight Salinger's literary influence, while others grappled with the more complicated elements of his biography.

  • His Influence Is Immeasurable  Several obituaries focused almost entirely on Salinger's literary legacy, using breathless language to describe his impact on American culture. NPR's Neta Ulaby gushed, "The Catcher in the Rye inspired censors, assassins and innumerable ordinary readers, who found in Salinger's hopeful yet disillusioned heroes an uncompromising kindred spirit. Entertainment Weekly was similarly effusive about him, lamenting the fact that he did not write more: "But all things considered, he gave as much of himself as he could. It was more than enough." MTV joined the chorus with its memorial, writing: "The literary world lost a giant." The most fawning prose came from the Associated Press, which credited Salinger with inspiring everything from Academy Award-winning film The Graduate to the 1980s teen classic The Breakfast Club:
Salinger was writing for adults, but teenagers from all over identified with the novel's themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy, not to mention the luck of having the last word. "Catcher" presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap. Novels from Evan Hunter's "The Blackboard Jungle" to Curtis Sittenfeld's "Prep," movies from "Rebel Without a Cause" to "The Breakfast Club," and countless rock 'n' roll songs echoed Salinger's message of kids under siege. One of the great anti-heroes of the 1960s, Benjamin Braddock of "The Graduate," was but a blander version of Salinger's narrator.
  • His Legacy Is Complicated  The New York Times balanced praise for Salinger's literary merit with an acknowledgment of the murkier parts of Salinger's story. Charles McGrath writes, "Depending on your point of view, he was either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy, who had turned silence itself into his most eloquent work of art." McGrath notes that reading Catcher was once "almost as important as getting your learner's permit," but also details the darker details of Salinger's personal life, including allegations from his daughter and former lover, Joyce Maynard, that the author was abusive and obsessed with health foods. Jezebel couldn't resist taking a swipe at Salinger's personal life--in its item announcing the author's death, the site wrote, "Maybe Joyce Maynard will write an obit?"

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