An old listserve friend of mine (what’s a “listserve friend”? Someone you’ve conversed with on listserves for seven years but never met) passed away Nov. 24th: Robert “Scottie” Bowman (1928-2005). I just found out as notice of his death was posted to a Salinger listserve just a day or so ago. Scottie is the author of at least two novels: Run to the Sea and The Toy, either of which you might, if you’re lucky, find on Amazon.com at any given time. They’re fairly rare these days, having been published in the 1960s. I was fortunate enough to have found and read Run to the Sea, and if you can imagine a novel written by a British Hemingway, this was it. Scottie was a psychologist by trade but an author at heart (perhaps the two vocations aren’t all that different after all): even his listserve posts were typically characterized by a grace and elegance of prose that’s rare to find anywhere on the internet. In tribute, I’ve reproduced one of his posts to a Salinger listserve from the mid to late 1990s, as there is no better representation of Scottie Bowman than his own words. It’s a description of his first impression of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when he read it in 1955 or 56:
One winter evening in 1955 (56 ?), after finishing a clinic session in the Croydon General Hospital, I was scrabbling under a pile of desk debris in search of a pen. I found, instead, a copy of The Catcher which had been abandoned, I presumed, by one of the social workers who occasionally used the same office. (I was sure it couldn’t have been one of my medical colleagues since they were not as a rule sufficiently literate to read anything more demanding than an X-Ray plate.)
I was mildly curious & began reading — though with no particular expectation, since the name Salinger, at that time, meant very virtually nothing to anyone in England.
Long, long before I reached the bottom of the first page I knew I had no choice but to take the book home with me & not leave it out of my hand until I’d finished it. Which I duly did, sometime in the early hours of the next morning. It really didn’t matter to me one damn who might have owned it & I doubt, in fact, I ever returned it. I shouldn’t like to think for how many days thereafter my brain continued in obsessive turmoil over the idea of this young lunatic in the red hunting cap.
This seems a rather different experience from the one Jim & others describe when they tell us of their original contact with Salinger: (`…I didn’t read Catcher until AFTER I graduated college, and I was an English Major…..I only read the opening page of Catcher in a writing class once, that was it…)
This suggests a considerably cooller response to my own & I wonder has it something to do with the way Salinger seems to have been an established figure of literature — set on college courses & so on — by the time most list members first encountered him. For people of my generation who were interested in writing, he represented a bomb going off (“all that David Copperfield crap”) — very much as I imagine Hemingway did to the generation before mine. (I don’t believe he had, in fact, the same potential for liberation that Hemingway presented & I don’t think he has lasted so well, but the parallel may still have some validity.)
Considering my own lifelong & instinctive resistance to books recommended by teachers I wonder would I have ever got round to him — even at this late stage in the proceedings.
Regrettably, I’m the Jim he’s making reference to in the post. The only thing I can say in my defense is that mine was a cooler response only in that I had to read ten or twenty pages before I was hooked, not just one. But I think he has a point about generational differences, though. In 1996 and 2005 Salinger is an institution, not the bomb dropped on the literary scene that he was in the mid 50s.
Scottie’s was an eloquent voice of a past generation that will sorely be missed. I’ll miss you, Scottie.
PS Thanks much to Daniel Yocum for reposting the above to the Salinger listserve and bringing it back to our attention.