Literary daybook, Jan. 31

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published January 31, 2003 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

- - - - - - - - - - -

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 "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, one of the many that Salinger would cast in the Holden mold and predicament. Here the parallel is quite specific, as Seymour finds himself not only married to a Sally-type but, just moments before his suicide, trapped in one of Holden's recurring nightmares of adulthood -- sharing an elevator with a phony:

"On the sub-main floor of the hotel, which the management directed bathers to use, a woman with zinc salve on her nose got into the elevator with the young man.
'I see you're looking at my feet,' he said to her when the car was in motion.
'I beg your pardon?' said the woman. 'I said I see you're looking at my feet.' 'I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor,' said the woman, and faced the doors of the car.
'If you want to look at my feet, say so,' said the young man. 'But don't be a God-damned sneak about it.'"

Perhaps, as some claim, there is a Buddhist significance to Salinger's use of the number nine in the title of the story collection; he cites the Zen koan on "the sound of one hand clapping" on an introductory page. Perhaps, as the more recent Salinger-bashing in books by those once close to him would have us believe, the loudest clapping all along has been Salinger's for himself. This idea is not a new one, and has been 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 beknighted British academic and satiric novelist. Bradbury's central character in the Salinger parody is Fritz Pitz, janitor of the Glasses' Manhattan apartment building. Fritz is perhaps not the typical janitor -- he is "au fait with the realization that we dwell in an age of anxiety," and comfortable with the word "solipsism," especially when describing the Glasses -- but 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 a while, 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, Fla. 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 call. 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," contact Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Books Richard Blumenthal