SOF May 2019 Book Group: "Franny and Zooey", by JD Salinger

Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
edited May 3 in Heaven
Sorry for the delay, everyone! Home computer is getting emergency care, and I'll probably have home access again this weekend.

This month's book is "Franny & Zooey", by JD Salinger. I'm not sure how to describe it, without giving anything away. It's partly about a turning point. FZ was also banned, in the past (Polilla Writes). It's #54 on that particular list. IMHO: if the banners had really read it, they might not have banned it.

...

Tentative start date is Monday, May 20th. Please let me know if that's not going to work for you. AFTER I POST THE OFFICIAL START ON THE 20TH, you can pop in any time, for as long as the thread is open--which it will probably be for some time. I will also post potential discussion questions on the 20th, just to get things started.

PLEASE DON'T POST ANY DETAILS, HINTS, OR SPOILERS BEFORE THE OFFICIAL START! THEY COULD RUIN THE BOOK FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Please be cautious, even if **you** think it's not a spoiler. Many people like to discover a story on their own.

When you get a chance, please post here if you're interested in participating. That's not required; but it helps me get an idea of the group.

Happy reading! :)

[Edited: To remove potential copyright infringement]

Comments

  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    I've not read this before, but, yes, I'm in!
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on either Kindle or Audible.
  • TubbsTubbs Admin
    Tiara On

    Franny & Zooey is still in copyright so any site reproducing the text or offering a free download may not be strictly legit so the links in the OP to free online versions has been deleted.

    Tiara Off
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    By happenstance, I just re-read Franny and Zooey about a month ago, so I will definitely drop by at least.

    If anyone needs encouragement, it (a) is fairly short and (b) offers lots of food for thought I think.
  • TubbsTubbs Admin
    edited May 3
    fineline wrote: »
    Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on either Kindle or Audible.

    Sorry, I deleted that part of the sentence in the OP by mistake.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    My copy is sitting in my "to read" pile.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I'm in. I read it first as a teenager and it made a big impression on me.
    I guess Salinger put an embargo on his stuff being on Kindle, but you can pick up copies in second hand bookshops quite easily. I got mine from the charity bookshop that I volunteer in. Libraries should have it too.
  • I'm not finding any of these book club books in my local library system. If they do exist "Sorry, all copies of this book are out on loan", and when I look they seem to have gone out on loan some time ago and remained missing in action.

    I do check the local charity shops, including our new Oxfam bookshop and I'm not finding much on the list there either.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    My library has one copy but it's out on loan. I'll have a look in charity shops. I haven't noticed it being in charity shops, but I haven't been specifically looking for it either. I did look all over in charity shops for the Barbara Pym one and didn't find it.
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    I'm going to try to join in the book club as regularly as possible this year after a few years of only occasional involvement. I was lucky my local library had a copy of 'Franky and Zooey' available so I will be joining in this month.
  • @fineline I can loan you my copy through post, pm me

    I love this book. Nothing happens but it really digs into the characters.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    @not entirely me - thank you, that is very kind of you. Though I may be able to get it from the library if I reserve it - if the person who has it out returns it on time, I should get it in three week's time. I will try that, but thank you so much for the offer.
  • agingjbagingjb Shipmate
    I've found my copy (together with "Raise High ... Seymour ...") will reread.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I am fortunate to work at a university. If we do not have the book I have access to a worldwide loan programme.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Very happy to have found a copy -- will be joining in.
  • McMaverickMcMaverick Shipmate
    fineline wrote: »
    Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available on either Kindle or Audible.
    It’s not even available as an ebook through the university library system.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I also checked university libraries near me, and it wasn't there in either hard or digital copy. But it's in a public library now for me to collect - whoever had it returned it earlier than its due date - so I will get it tomorrow.

    I have been reading The Way of a Pilgrim (which is available as a Kindle book for £3.32), as it was recommended on another thread, and I discovered from googling that it is a theme of Franny and Zooey, so I'm curious to see how it ties in.
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    Started reading it yesterday evening. Should finish it by the end of the long weekend.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    Ok, here we go:

    *************************************
    DISCUSSION STARTS HERE

    *************************************


    Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends: the Ship Of Fools book group! This month, we're discussing "Franny & Zooey", by J.D. Salinger.

    If you haven't finished (or started!) the book yet, no worries. Just jump in when you're ready.

    Here are a few suggested questions to get the discussion going. Feel free to pick and choose. (I may add more later.) NOTE: This *isn't* a book report for school. Just say what you want to say about the book, and have fun!
    :)


    --Have you read FZ before?

    --What did you like/loathe about the book? About the characters, plot, religious ideas, etc.?

    --What is the Glass family (F, Z, etc.) like? Would you want to be around them, whether individually or the whole family?

    --What do you think about the various versions of Jesus and Christianity mentioned in the book? (NOTE: You don't have to be a Christian--or religious at all--to have an opinion!)

    --Have you heard of or read "The Way Of The Pilgrim" and "The Pilgrim Continues His Way"? (AIUI, they were originally two separate pieces of writing. IME, they're usually packaged together in one book, using the first title.)

    --Who is "Seymour's Fat Lady"?


    Have fun! :) (And please be civil if/when there are disagreements.)

  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    -Have you read FZ before?
    No.

    --What did you like/loathe about the book? About the characters, plot, religious ideas, etc.?

    I found the plot to be thin gruel. The characters, by and large, were unlikeable and not fully rounded.

    --What is the Glass family (F, Z, etc.) like? Would you want to be around them, whether individually or the whole family? The characters were not fully drawn. I found it hard to believe how much abuse Mrs. G. was taking from Zooey when they were chatting in the bathroom. F.’s existential crisis seemed such a privileged first world problem. I felt like giving Z. a good kick in the ass, at times.

    --What do you think about the various versions of Jesus and Christianity mentioned in the book? (NOTE: You don't have to be a Christian--or religious at all--to have an opinion!)

    --Have you heard of or read "The Way Of The Pilgrim" and "The Pilgrim Continues His Way"? (AIUI, they were originally two separate pieces of writing. IME, they're usually packaged together in one book, using the first title.) No.

    --Who is "Seymour's Fat Lady"? 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I read FZ when I was teenager fifty years ago and it had a big influence on me then. Reading it now, it almost doesn't seem the same book. At the time I much preferred Z and the 'do it for the fat lady' idea was very influential as I slowly moved towards becoming a Christian. I went and read 'Way of a Pilgrim' too. Now all I can think of is why are they all ruining their health smoking too much.
    Now I prefer F as a story, though it doesn't seem a patch on Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants which we studied in my writing group recently which is another story about two people having a conversation about anything other than what really matters.
    I'll come back to some of the other questions later.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    edited May 22
    I'm another who read Franny & Zooey as a teen and was convinced that Franny was having a pregnancy scare rather than an existential crisis! The intensity and 'voice' was appealing, I felt more at home here than with Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.

    I read it again in my 20s and was struck by the chain smoking and play with cigarettes and ash as a kind of self-soothing activity. It seemed to me that the smoking and cigarettes served as what Winnicott calls a 'transitional object', something taking the place of a lost relationship or identity. I understood that in the 1950s, when Salinger was writing about the Glass family, smoking was seen as innocuous and health issues around nicotine or 'addiction' were not yet understood.

    It also seemed to me that Franny's reading and rereading of the Russian staretz devotional, the Way of the Pilgrim, was not so much a religious conversion or search for God as another kind of repetitive self-soothing activity, a distraction from darker feelings and fears. I went on to read all the Glass family fictions, most very short and published by an indulgent New Yorker editor. One thing that puzzled me and would give the 'clue' to the nature of the family crisis as understood by Buddy, Zooey, Bettie and Franny, was that this was a Jewish family who had given up on Judaism. They were exploring Eastern Zen or Buddhist or Tao practices, old Catholic hesychastic options, Russian Orthodox prayers or mantras. Something had become unbearable or impossible for them as a Jewish family, they could no longer be Jewish.

    I reread some Salinger a couple of years ago, fictions to do with the beloved and gifted brother Seymour (Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter and For Esme with Love & Squalor). Seymour's suicide is for me the unspoken hollow or 'absence' at the core of most of Salinger's work after Catcher in the Rye.

    I went back and read about Salinger's war experiences.. He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and saw some of the hardest fighting of the WWII. Most of his infantry regiment were killed in the ferocious battles to take Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. And then, in 1945, Salinger was present at the liberation of Dachau. This experience would haunt him and for me it is the underlying Jewish trauma behind everything he wrote about post-war America. Salinger told his daughter he could never get Dachau's smell of burning flesh out of his nostrils.

    I'm sorry to write such a long post and of course many may have their own interpretations, lighter or funnier than this reading. But for me, to take Salinger seriously as a major writer means engaging with what remains largely unsaid in the Glass family and in the overt plot and dialogues. I don't think Salinger's work has aged well and yet it remains powerful writing.

  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    Definitely agree about his WW2 experience. He wasn't just there; he was part of some of the worst of it.

    First time I read F&Z was about two years ago when I picked it up at bookstore together with a paperback edition of "Babylon Revisited" and two other later Fitzgerald stories. Babylon Revisited isn't exactly light comedy, but even so, I was struck by how everything in Salinger is so much more intense.

    The sense I get from the Salinger I've read (particularly F&Z but also Catcher) is of a writer coming to terms with a naive human sense of normalcy/being-at-home-in-the-world/what-you-will being destroyed by extreme experience and trying to come to terms with what happens next. Something like this seems to be happening to Franny at the beginning of F. I think we see Zooey starting to help Franny get to some more more mature re-engagement with the world by the end of Z, in a sense by acknowledging that whatever naive sense of basic normalcy she may formerly have had is no longer possible, though not until after a bad false start.

    Not sure exactly what to say about the mysticism in F&Z. It all sort of makes sense to me, in an impressionistic kind of way, but I'm not sure I can articulate why.

  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Shipmate
    Marsupial, I like that: 'It all sort of makes sense to me, in an impressionistic kind of way' because that is what I'm trying to make sense of in the overlap between what Zooey and Buddy see as multiple love story and mystical narrative. Franny is looking for something that is lacking in the modern American theatre and academe and the materialist ambitions of her boyfriend Lane. She needs to reconnect to the unlovable and see them ( Seymour's fat Lady) as her connection, so she might know herself loved and loving. But any attempt to 'spell' out what Salinger circles around takes me further away from what comes across as tender or compelling in the rambling monologues and self-scrutinies going on.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    edited May 24
    Thanks for your comments about Salinger's background @MaryLouise.
    I think Franny might be having a pregnancy scare as well as existential angst, and that Lane is probably more worried about the former than the latter.
    I think Zooey would work well as a short film, all the description of the medicine cabinet etc would work well visually, as would the interaction between Zooey and his mother.
  • SirPalomidesSirPalomides Shipmate
    When Way of the Pilgrim was being popularized in Russia, some contemporary churchmen were ambivalent or critical of it. I think it was Theophan the Recluse who opined that the most dangerous thing about the book is that it depicts someone intensively practicing the prayer over a few days and having all kinds of beautiful experiences in a fairly short period. People reading the book could come away with very high expectations for themselves, leading to burnout or delusion.
  • MiliMili Shipmate
    This was the first time I read this book. I read 'Catcher in the Rye' two or three years ago, but had not read any of Salinger's writings before then. It's interesting the Zooey and Franny had a big impact on those of you who read it as teens.

    Like the main character in 'Catcher in the Rye' Zooey and Franny can come across as pretentious and 'shallow', until you take into account their difficult life experiences. These experiences, especially Seymour's suicide, but also their childhood of being child stars and geniuses made me have more empathy and understanding for them. I read summaries of some of the other stories involving the Glass family and have ordered a book of stories from the New York Times in the 1950s as I want to read 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish' (I could have bought '9 Stories' by Salinger instead, but as I had to order from the US anyway I would rather have a larger anthology to make the costs worth it).

    I did want to forcefully travel into the book and force the characters to stop smoking. The second story could have been twice as long if they took out all the smoking references! As an asthmatic I'm glad I live in less smoke filled times.

    The spiritual aspect was interesting, though I also thought Franny might be pregnant. It would be interesting to know if Franny stayed on the spiritual path or was just going through a teenage phase. As someone with a family history of mental illness on one side of the family, I also found it interesting that Zooey believed Seymour's treatment for his depression made it worse and contributed to his suicide, so were not keen on seeking professional advice for Franny. My paternal grandfather's bipolar disorder and abuse towards my Grandma and his kids was blamed on my grandmother in the 1960s, so I can sympathise with the distrust at the time, though perhaps better treatment was available in New York, than in Australia.

    The older brothers seemed to make things (unintentionally) harder for Franny and Zooey when they decided to compel them to focus on the spiritual over the intellectual, perhaps because the older children's focus on intellectual achievements as child geniuses had not help them in the long term. I have never believed in the idea of enlightenment or reaching spiritual perfection (sanctification?) whether in one lifetime or in a series of reincarnations. It puts a lot of pressure on people to pretend to be spiritually pure or better than other humans and can cause some people to be too inward looking.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    It was also my first time reading Franny and Zooey, but I'd read Catcher in the Rye a few years ago, and saw the same sort of themes being played out here, but explored further. In Catcher, you had a teenager, self-absorbed, sneering at the world for being phoney while being oblivious similar behaviours in himself. In F&Z, you have Franny, age 20, in a similar position, but aware of her own inconsistencies and despairing over them. Both very childish in some ways, but also having in the background the experience having lost a sibling, and thus having had a part of their childhood shattered. And so the world isn't the same for them any more, and they are angry and disillusioned, but they see it in terms of everyone being phoney and pretentious.

    As for whether I would like the Glass family, they seem to be a very insular family, and the behaviour they display to each other in private not the behaviour they'd display to outsiders. We learn that Zooey takes a dislike to most people, and lets them simply talk while he says nothing - unless he happens to like them, in which case he talks constantly at them. So it seems more that this novel gives an intimate glimpse into their private life, which wouldn't normally be seen. A bit of an over-dependence on each other, maybe, because they share the memories of the two brothers who died, while interaction with outsiders might seem fake.

    I find it interesting that while Franny hates people's phoneyness, she also very clearly doesn't appreciate Zooey being incredibly honest with her about her own inconsistencies - even though she knows he's right, she finds it very distressing. And the way Zooey gets through to her is by deception - phoning her pretending to be Buddy. And the fat lady thing seems to be the image through which she is able to get over despising people for their phoneyness and also being okay with the fact that she too is inconsistent, because it's a way of bringing everyone together as part of the divine. The fat lady is another way to imagine the divine. Franny had had a problem with Jesus, because of some of the things he'd said, and so saying the Jesus prayer wasn't quite sitting right with her. But the fat lady could be imagined however she liked, and had the connection with Seymour, so a way that he could still talk to her, as she'd wanted. Doing things for the fat lady is a way to be motivated, and also kind of doing them for Seymour too, and so combining Seymour with the divine, which Zooey had pointed out she was doing anyway. And seeing everyone as the fat lady enables her to see the divine in everyone, even the people she really despises - a way to get beyond her anger and hatred.

    Oh, and yes, I read The Way of the Pilgrim, right before I read F&Z. It seems like Franny sees it as a way to escape the superficiality and pretension she sees in the world, though as Zooey points out, she's doing it equally selfishly, with hope of reward, so there's not much difference, plus praying to Jesus is a bit contradictory for her, as she doesn't like him, and she is more imagining a kind of combination of Seymour, St Francis of Assisi, and Heidi's grandfather. That made me laugh, though also is I imagine the sort of thing all of us when we pray to our idea of God - we will subconsciously have certain ideas based on certain people, real and fictional. Which the idea of the fat lady also draws attention to.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    I'd hoped to join in the discussion this month again but life got in the way of reading the chosen book (new novel just out, signings, launch etc, chaos but fun.) Apologies.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate
    No problem, Andras. The thread will probably be open for some time, so feel free to jump in later if real life eases up.

    Everybody: Thanks for your posts so far. :) Here are some links you might find useful:

    --"What We Really Know about J.D. Salinger: Forget the so-called revelations about his war experience or his testicles, and go back to the Glass family stories, says Andrew Romano" (Daily Beast).

    IMHO, this is really, really good. (Possibly because the author says some things I'd thought! ;) )

    --"JD Salinger a recluse? No, just your average Tim Henman fan" (The Guardian).

    --A LOT about Salinger, from the PBS "American Masters" TV series.

    Don't feel you have to read any of these articles. But if you want to try one, I suggest the first one.



  • MiliMili Shipmate
    Sounds like you have a good and exciting excuse, Andras. Thanks for the links Golden Key. The first one is particularly interesting.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    I can't remember when I tried Franny and Zooey, but it would have been about 50 to 55 years ago. I'd really enjoyed Catcher and thought I'd enjoy Franny also. I just could not get into it then, nor could I on several tries later. I might have another go now I'm retired.
  • agingjbagingjb Shipmate
    I have reread. The novellas seem slight despite their intensity, as they did when I first read them.

    I preferred “Raise High the Roofbeam...” and “Seymour...” and may reread them.

    As for the Glass family, I suspect I wouldn’t have too much in common, but might have liked the quiz program.
  • Golden KeyGolden Key Shipmate

    My turn.


    --Have you read FZ before?

    Yes, several times. First when I was growing up, but not sure what age. Maybe in the 10-14 yrs. old range. Stumbled across it on my own. I knew it was sometimes banned. I think that if the banners had read the book, they would've *wanted* students to read it. (Given that the banners generally professed to be outraged Christians.)


    --What did you like/loathe about the book? About the characters, plot, religious ideas, etc.?

    Not enormously fond of F's boyfriend, Parker, though he was good to F at a couple of points. He's probably just a young college guy who still has a lot of growing to do.

    F kind of reminds me of Emily (?), the doctor's daughter from the TV series "Everwood". Emily was smart, uptight, anxious, a perfectionist, a ballet student, maybe was anorexic. She had a lot of healing and growing to do.

    Z is a good guy, when he gets past his own BS. His pseudo-Buddy phone call to F was good--especially once he dropped the charade.


    --What is the Glass family (F, Z, etc.) like? Would you want to be around them, whether individually or the whole family?

    They're a bunch of dysfunctional, brilliant people who have a hard time managing ordinary life. They deeply love each other, but cover up that and their own pain with trash-talk, hyper-concern, and meddling. Seymour and Buddy did sort of social experimentation on young Franny and Zooey, as Z mentions. The family is religiously mixed (Jewish dad and (Irish) Catholic mom), but doesn't seem to have been raised with either. The kids are all spiritual seekers, in a free-form way. I liked the quote board on the bedroom door.

    I think the mom loves them, is anxious about them, and maybe doesn't have quite the high-glow, high-wire intellect that her kids do. (Though she has her moments.) She just wants everyone to be ok, and I don't think the kids always grasp that.

    Does anyone know anything about the dad? I think he was mentioned in passing. I haven't read the other Glass family books. Is he in any?

    I suspect the quiz show the kids were on cast long shadows of expectations to always be witty and on display. Not healthy for them.

    I might like being around Z, F, or Mrs. Glass individually, depending on their moods and mine. Possibly not as a group, except maybe at a very relaxed picnic.


    --What do you think about the various versions of Jesus and Christianity mentioned in the book? (NOTE: You don't have to be a Christian--or religious at all--to have an opinion!)

    I was still fundamentalist when I first read the book; so yeah, the "Jesus as a fundamentally-human Great Teacher, a 'spiritual adept', possibly adopted/chosen by God" wasn't my way of looking at Christianity, though I knew of it. I think I decided they were reaching for God, but in their own way. And Jesus was important to them. FZ helped me look at Christianity from different angles. and consider that maybe God was more concerned with individual people than with correct bullet-point doctrine.


    --Have you heard of or read "The Way Of The Pilgrim" and "The Pilgrim Continues His Way"? (AIUI, they were originally two separate pieces of writing. IME, they're usually packaged together in one book, using the first title.)

    F & Z put me on to Pilgrim. :) And I love it. (Particularly the Helen Bacovcin translation.) Especially "Dear beggar, dear beggar, please wait!"


    --Who is "Seymour's Fat Lady"?

    Everybody! :)


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