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A Nine Story Sunday (and some weekly geekiness)

May 4, 2008

Numbers ChallengeI am one of those teenagers who never got around the reading Catcher in the Rye. It sounded a bit too angsty for me…not to say I didn’t have my share of angst in high school, but I realised that if I read a book like that, it’d make me realise how silly my angst was, and I didn’t really want that. So I don’t have a relationship with J.D. Salinger. However, I just finished reading his Nine Stories for the Number Challenge, and that man could write! Each story evokes a post WWII world where everyone smoked, parents weren’t terribly concerned about what their children were doing every minute of every day, people wore their racism on their sleeves, and some of the soldiers who came home weren’t quite right anymore. The first story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is probably the most famous; I was planning on writing why I loved it so, but it turns out that Mariel decided to do that today as well! So I’ll talk about some of my other favourites. My absolute favourite, even over “Bananafish,” was “For Esme-With Love and Squalor.” In it, an American GI training in Dover wanders around the town one day and meets thirteen-year-old Esme. Esme is rather what I imagine Anne Shirley would be like if she had been born to a titled British family. She loves big words, and the way Salinger captures her voice is simply magical. The GI is in a cafe when Esme, her little brother, and her nurse come in. Obviously, Esme comes over to talk:

The next thing I knew, the young lady was standing, with enviable poise, beside my table. She was wearing a tartan dress-a Campbell tartan, I believe. It seemed to me to be a wonderful dress for a very young girl to be wearing on a rainy, rainy day. “I thought Americans despied tea,” she said.
It wasn’t the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover. I replied that some of us never drank anything but tea. I asked her if she’d care to join me.
“Thank you,” she said. “Perhaps for just one fraction of a moment.”

The narrator himself was really neat too: he’s a writer and a reader, and I think we’d all identify with his priorities:

By three in the afternoon, I’d packed all my belongings into my barrack bag, including a canvas gas-mask container full of books I’d brought over from the Other Side. (The gas mask itself I’d slipped through a porthole of the Mauretania some weeks earlier, fully aware that if the enemy ever did use gas I’d never get the damn thing on in time).

They have a wonderful conversation, and when Esme learns that the narrator is a short story writer, she asks him to write a story for her that’s full of squalor (“I’d be extremely flattered if you’d write a story exclusively for me some time. I’m an avid writer.”) The second half of the story is the narrator’s short story for Esme, but it’s still based on the narrator’s experiences. I don’t want to give away anymore (but I promise it doesn’t have an abrupt, depressing ending like some of Salinger’s other stories), but it’s one of my favourite short stories ever (I really long for a whole novel about Esme). And you can read the whole thing here. Go do it.

Have you read it? Now do you understand my passion? Ok, so we’ll go on to a couple of my other favourites. “Down at the Dinghy” focuses on an afternoon at a beach house. It begins with two women talking, but the focus quickly shifts to a young mother:

The swinging door opened from the dining room and Boo Boo Tannenbaum, the lady of the house, came into the kitchen. She was a small, almost hipless girl of twenty-five with styleless, colorless, brittle hair pushed back behind her ears, which were very large. She was dressed in knee-length jeans, a black turtleneck pullover, and socks and loafers. Her joke of a name aside, her general unprettiness aside, she was-in terms of permanently memorable, immoderately perceptive, small-area faces-a stunning and final girl.

I love how Salinger describes his characters. The heart of the story is a conversation between Boo Boo and her four-year-old son, who has an odd habit of trying to run away. He’s just done it again, and he refuses to come out of the familys dinghy, so Boo Boo tries to find out why. Unlike most of Salinger’s mothers, she’s just wonderful, and I loved watching her interact with her son. In looking up a link to the full story (you can read it here), I learned this is part of Salinger’s Glass series. I really need to read Franny and Zooey, even if Boo Boo doesn’t play a big part.

This is becoming a long post, and those were my two favourites, so I think I’ll leave it at that. I’d highly recommend this collection to everyone: Salinger perfectly captures children and teenagers (I think I understand now why Catcher in the Rye is so popular) and the psychological devestation of war. The stories are quite varied, dealing with everything from a little boy who is something of a guru and believes in reincarnation (“Teddy”) to a husband at his wit’s end about his wife’s roving eye (“Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes”) to a teenager convinced by his years in Paris that he is the Next Big Thing in art (“De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”). They’re all united in their powerful endings (a very important feature for me in a short story) and distinct voices.

Other Book Bloggers’ Reviews:
Puss Reboots

And now, about the Weekly Geek community! I came back from my blogging break only to discover that Dewey has developed yet another way for book bloggers to strengthen ties. Honestly, it’s as if she wants bloggers to interact or something. j/k This week’s ‘assignment’ is to begin adding links to other bloggers who have reviewed whatever book you’re talking about; I think this is a good idea (I’ve been toying with it for awhile, and sometimes I actually do it, but often I’m lazy), so I’m hopping on the bandwagon! See my cute new button to the left? SO, if y’all have reviewed any books I’ve talked, ETA: I’ve decided to include 2007 and 2008, just leave a comment on the post with a link to your review, and I’ll add it in. And for any future reviews, please do the same! I really like the idea of increasing link love, so I’ll probably be visiting other Weekly Geeks and leaving links to my reviews if they ask. :D

22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2008 4:48 pm

    Hi, thanks for the link! I’ve done the same. I was pleasantly surprised by Salinger and really must read more, starting with the rest of Nine Stories. Great review!

  2. May 4, 2008 7:12 pm

    Thanks for stopping by. Here are our reviews in common:
    The House on the Strand
    In Cold Blood
    Nine Stories
    Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

  3. May 4, 2008 8:40 pm

    Mariel, Salinger pleasantly surprised me too! I’m glad you liked the review. :)

    Pus Reboots, great-I’ve gone back and linked my old reviews! (And have I mentioned how impressed I am over how many reviews you have?!)

  4. amateurdelivre permalink
    May 5, 2008 5:01 am

    You read my mind! I did read Catcher in the Rye and didn’t enjoy it – this was many years ago (I was in junior high) so maybe if I gave it another shot? But, I do LOVE his other work including Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey!

  5. May 5, 2008 5:10 am

    I loved this post, Eva. Salinger really could write. Esme is my second favourite story – right after Bananafish,

    And yes, you do need to read Franny and Zoeey!

  6. May 5, 2008 5:25 am

    I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye either but the short stories sound wonderful. I liked the quotes you included.

  7. May 5, 2008 5:47 am

    We have loads of books in common! I’ll try to come back and look through 2007 and 2008, but in the meantime I will be looking out for any future books that we have in common!

  8. May 5, 2008 5:56 am

    I don’t love Catcher in the Rye as much as so many do (my husband included). Not that I disliked it or anything…perhaps it’s time for a re-read. Anyway, this collection sounds fabulous! Thanks, Eva!

  9. verbivore permalink
    May 5, 2008 6:22 am

    I love Nine Stories but its been a few years since I read it, I should go back and enjoy those stories again. Yes, Salinger could really write!

  10. May 5, 2008 8:58 am

    I loved Catcher in the Rye. You really should try it, just like I should read these stories. They sound great, especially “Esme…” Thanks Eva!

  11. May 5, 2008 8:51 pm

    I’ve read Catcher in the Rye, but at the time I didn’t really connect with it. Funny, I bet I would like it more if I reread it.

    I enjoyed your review, and the description of Esme. It sounds like a great story!

    I see you are not only back, but blogging like crazy:-)

  12. May 6, 2008 5:19 am

    Amateur de Livre, honestly, I’ll probably never read Catcher in the Rye and I’m ok with that, lol. But I’m desperate for Franny and Zooey now!

    Nymeth, that’s funny how we both have the top two Salinger stories. :) (I think like Esme better because of its happy ending!)

    Marmite and Tea, you should go read “Esme.” I’ve linked it and everything! :)

    Marg, that’s awesome! I’ll try to visit your blog and go through it as well.

    Debi, I hope you read it!

    Verbivore, it’s funny to me how shocked I am when I really famous author I’ve never read turns out to be a great writer. I don’t know why I should be surprised, lol.

    Chartroose, ok…I promise I’ll try out Catcher one of these days. After Franny and Zooey!!

    Kim, I have been blogging like crazy lately: something about not being able to blog for so long has made me want to write a million entries at once. :D I’m capturing that momentum w/ lots of draft posts!

  13. May 6, 2008 5:29 pm

    I do love Catcher in the Rye, but one of my book theories states that certain books should never be read if they are not read by a certain age. Catcher in the Rye’s age is probably 17. Once you’re past 17, forget it.

    Nine Stories on the other hand, any age.

  14. May 6, 2008 11:17 pm

    Hi there.
    Popping up from Weekly Geeks _ we have American Gods in common; here’s my link:

  15. May 7, 2008 8:44 pm

    We have a lot of books in common, but here are links to the ones I’ve actually reviewed ;>). I’ve added your links to my reviews, too.

    The Book Thief



    Booked to Die

    Polysyllabic Spree

    ~Kristi (Passion for the Page)

  16. May 8, 2008 4:44 pm

    C.B., Nine Stories is definitely any age!

    Kristi, great-I’ll add yours soon! And thanks for linking mine without me providing the addresses. :)

  17. May 10, 2008 7:09 am

    >>Catcher in the Rye. It sounded a bit too angsty for me…not to say I didn’t have my share of angst in high school, but I realised that if I read a book like that, it’d make me realise how silly my angst was, and I didn’t really want that.<<

    YOU are brilliant. Yours truly, a big fan…

  18. May 10, 2008 6:17 pm

    Care, awww-thanks!

  19. May 25, 2008 9:52 pm

    Awe. I love Nine Stories. I hope you’ve read or will read Franny and Zooey too.

  20. May 26, 2008 10:10 am

    Hi Jill! Thanks for visiting. :) Franny and Zooey is definitely on my radar now, and it’s one of my possibles for the Classics Challenge. FYI, your link has one too many ‘l’s in it, so it’s not working!


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