Literary Daybook, Jan. 31

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 31, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Jan. 31, Charlie Bucket finds the last gold ticket in the tour-the-chocolate-factory contest.
-- "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1964)
by Roald Dahl

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1948, J. D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" was published in the New Yorker; in the same magazine, on the same day in 1953, Salinger's story "Teddy" also appeared. These are the first and last selections in Nine Stories (1953) -- Salinger's only collection, apart from various bootlegged editions of the other 40-odd stories. "Bananafish" introduces Seymour Glass -- though he is immediately killed off, like Teddy, by suicide -- and the other stories present a handful of characters in the Seymour-Holden mold. Perhaps, as some claim, there is some Buddhist-Hindu significance to Salinger's use of the number "nine" in the title of the collection; Salinger's introductory citation of the Zen koan on "the sound of one hand clapping" might suggest this. The recent Salinger-bashing in books by those once close to him would have us believe that the only clapping all along has been Salinger's for himself. This idea, not a new one, is presented much more honorably and enjoyably in "Who Do You Think You Are" (1976), a collection of stories and parodies written by Malcolm Bradbury, the esteemed (and, in 2000, beknighted) British academic and satiric novelist. "Fritz" may be the janitor of the Manhattan apartment building in which the Glass family lives, but he is "au fait with the realization that we dwell in an age of anxiety" and comfortable with the word "solipsism" when describing the Glasses. He is well-placed to report to us what Salinger won't: that Buddy quit writing for the macrobiotic fennel business, that Franny got married to a Buick dealer, that ...

"Zooey stayed on at the apartment awhile, calling up on the telephone at one end of the place and then running to answer it at the other, but after a couple of months he took off, too, and, after a spell financing blue movies, opened a Zen archery range for singles in Sarasota, Florida. Seymour, being dead, has been harder to keep track of, but no doubt he's around somewhere. Life has calmed a lot, around this distinctly Manhattanesque locale, and the only worrying thing is the phone calls. They come from some guy in New Hampshire or somewhere; and he seems to have been calling for, like, years, looking for the tribe."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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