Jan. 1, 2014

A Small Glass of Orange Juice

by Ron Padgett

on a white tablecloth
with light blue legs below
in a hotel restaurant
in a small town in Poland
in 1936
is being contemplated
by a man
whose homburg
is tilted
at an angle
parallel to that
of the picture
on the wall
behind him,
a mountain scene
with forest below
in which a lone deer
has turned to look at us.

"A Small Glass of Orange Juice," by Ron Padgett, from Collected Poems. © Coffee House Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is New Year's Day, the first day of 2014.

It was on this New Year's Day in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring freedom for all slaves in the Southern states. The ruling changed the Civil War from a war against secession to a war against slavery. It also allowed the Union to enlist 200,000 African-American soldiers who volunteered after January 1st. Slavery was abolished in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

It's the birthday of writer E.M. Forster (Edward Morgan Forster) (books by this author), born in London in 1879. He's the author of A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910), and A Passage to India (1924). He wrote his five most important novels before he was 40. He said, "The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves." He also said. "One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it."

And it's the birthday of J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger (books by this author), born in New York City (1919). Salinger had started his career as a writer back in 1940, at a time when the short stories published in magazines were still one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the United States. He published a number of short stories in the group of magazines known as "the slicks," magazines that included The Saturday Evening Post, Mademoiselle, Good Housekeeping, and Collier's. But the magazine that he most wanted to publish a story in was The New Yorker.

In 1941, Salinger sent The New Yorker a story called "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," about a troubled teenager named Holden Caulfield, and The New Yorker bought it. "Slight Rebellion Off Madison" was not written in Holden Caulfield's voice; it was narrated in the third person. In one of the first descriptions of Holden Caulfield, Salinger wrote, "While riding on 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."

The story was about Holden's date with a girl named Sally Hayes. He complains to her that that he hates everything about New York, including buses and taxicabs and movies, but eventually he agrees to go to her house and help trim a Christmas tree. The New Yorker bought the story in November of 1941 and planned to run it in their Christmas issue.

That December, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and Salinger's story was put on hold. It was considered too trivial in a time of war. Salinger kept submitting stories to The New Yorker for the next few years, even as he was drafted into the Army, but his stories kept getting rejected.

At the start of his Army enlistment, Salinger was stationed in England, so he didn't see any combat. He was still able to write and submit short stories for publication, and he published a series of stories about Army life. He told his agent that he was working on a set of stories about Holden Caulfield, but he didn't want to publish any of them because he thought he could put them together in a novel. Then, in June of 1943, Salinger learned that he would be deployed in the ground force invasion of Normandy on D-Day.

Salinger's division hit the beach in the fifth hour of the invasion, and for the next several months, Salinger saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. Between 50 and 200 soldiers in his division were killed or wounded every day. At the end of the war, Salinger checked into an Army general hospital in Nuremberg, suffering from a nervous breakdown. He spent several months recuperating.

It was after Salinger's release from the hospital that he sent out for publication the first Holden Caulfield story narrated by Holden Caulfield himself, a story called "I'm Crazy." It was published in Collier's in December of 1945. One year later, in 1946, The New Yorker finally published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which they had been holding onto since before the war began. J.D. Salinger had finally become a New Yorker writer, something he'd been dreaming of for more than a decade.

Salinger continued publishing short stories for the rest of the 1940s, most of them in The New Yorker, and in 1949, the editor Robert Giroux wrote him to ask if he wanted to publish a collection of short stories. Giroux didn't hear back from Salinger for months, and then, one day, Salinger walked into his office.

Giroux said, "A tall, sad-looking young man with a long face and deep-set black eyes walked in, saying, 'It's not my stories that should be published first, but the novel I'm working on ... about this kid in New York during the Christmas holidays.'" Giroux said he'd love to publish it, but when it was finished, one of his superiors thought the kid in the book seemed too crazy. So Salinger published The Catcher in the Rye with Little, Brown and Company in 1951.

The New York Times ran a review titled "Aw, the World's a Crumby Place" that poked fun at Salinger's style. The New Yorker refused to run any excerpts of the novel because they said that the children in it were unbelievably intelligent, and the style of the novel was too "showoffy." But despite the mixed reviews, The Catcher in the Rye reached the best-seller list after being in print just two weeks, and it stayed there for more than six months. It has gone on to sell more than 60 million copies. It has been at one time or another both the most banned book in America and one of the most assigned books in American classrooms.

Salinger died in 2010, at the age of 91, after 50 years spent avoiding the public eye as much as possible. Though he continued to write for his own pleasure — and told a neighbor he had 15 completed novels in his house — he published his last story in The New Yorker in 1965.

According to a new biography, Salinger (2013), written by David Shields and Shane Salerno, some of Salinger's unpublished work will be released between 2015 and 2020.

Salinger wrote, "What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while ... What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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