J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher In The Rye’.

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“I liked it very much indeed, more than anything for a long time.”, That was Samuel Beckett’s thoughts on J.D. Salinger’s modern master piece ‘The Catcher In The Rye’. There’s not many books I’ve read as quick or enjoyed as much. The further I got through the story, the more I wished I had read it when I was sixteen (the same age as the protagonist). I think the book would have had major impact on me. It’s very much in the same vain as ‘Rebel without a cause’. It made me laugh how much the lead character (and narrator) hated everyone. Absolutely everyone. Even the people who were trying to help him. I think that’s why it struck a chord with me. I could see my younger self in Holden Caulfield.

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Murphy’

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After reading a lot of Sam Shepard’s work I decided to branch out and start reading some of his influences. From what I gather Beckett is one of his favourites. I knew of Beckett as a play write and theatre director but hadn’t read any of his prose work, short stories or Novels. While I was in London for meetings I picked up a copy of Molloy, read the first 30 pages and concluded It might be best to start with his early work. I found Molloy a very hard read. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it. The only trouble was that after reading any more than ten pages at a time, I found myself lost. It’s a hard book to follow. I picked up a copy of Murphy, the Irish writers first published novel. Beckett found it very hard to get the book published but eventually managed to in 1938 by Routledge. Murphy is one of a very few novels which Beckett wrote in English. Most of his later works were originally written in French and translated into English (with his assistance).

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” Is maybe my favourite opening line to any book I’ve read. The book is as complex as it is bizarre. Very reminiscent of Kafka’s work. The thing I like most, is how floored all the characters are. There isn’t a likable soul amongst them. Brilliant read if you get a chance. Now, time to give Molloy a read.

Sam Shepard’s ‘The One Inside’

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Sam Shepard always maintained he would not write a memoir. There would be no auto-biography. Considering the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ winning writer is such a private man; his writing is often based on his personal life and family background. ‘The One Inside’ is as much biographical as fictional. The book centres around an actor in his 70’s (like Shepard), who is recently split from a 30-year relationship (like Shepard) and is reflecting on his life and his complicated relationship with his farther (also like Shepard).

‘The One Inside’ is clearly influenced by one of the authors favourite writers ‘Samuel Beckett’. It doesn’t follow a linear time frame and is horrifically honest and personal at times. It’s an incredibly well written piece of work which has a poetic quality to it which, keeps you turning the pages. It’s reminiscent of Shepard’s short story collections rather than a standard novel. ‘The One Inside’ looks set to be Sam’s penultimate published piece of work with ‘Spy of the First Person’ being released this December.

There is also a brilliant forward by Shepard’s long-time friend Patti Smith.

Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark

I always liked Sam Shepard as an actor. He stood out. There was a toughness about him, an authority. Which, is maybe why he played so many army officers, policemen, FBI agents and general ‘tough guys’. Until last year I had no idea Sam was also a writer. In fact, he is far more revered for his writing then his acting. The man one a Pulitzer Prize for fuck sake! All this was new to me.

Roughly 12 months ago, I saw his play ‘Buried Child’ on the West End. At the interval, my girlfriend Alex went to get some drinks and came back with gift, a collection of Shepard’s plays (Sam Shepard plays 2). We both thought the play was brilliantly intense. It was nothing like we were expecting. I would soon learn that’s a common theme in the writers work. Since then I’ve been reading as much of his plays, short stories and novels that I could get my hands on.

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‘Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark‘, is a catalogue of 40 years’ worth of correspondence between two soul mates. They meet after Johnny Dark sees one of Sam’s plays and enquires to “what drug he wrote it on?”. Soon after Sam falls in love and marries John’s step daughter ‘O-Lan’, before they move to England with their young son ‘Jesse’. This is when their correspondence starts. Dark in America. Shepard in London.

When the Shepard’s return to America three years later, the Shepard’s and the Dark’s move in together and form a tight family unit. During this time, director Terrance Malek asks Sam if he’d fancy acting  in ‘Days of Heaven’ which he does and suddenly Sam Shepard goes from writer to actor. Four years later Sam falls in love with Jessica Lange while working on the film ‘Frances’ and he leaves his wife. The letters at this time give an insight into a man torn apart by love and guilt. You can see how it effects Sam as a writer. Sam’s life is constantly moving. Working all over the country on different films and plays. While Dark’s life is very still. He remains at home looking after Sam’s son ‘Jesse’ and his sick wife Scarlett. Both happy and content for the most part. But, with flashes of what I can only describe as deep depression.

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In general the letters reflect two men on the outskirts of society. Mostly spending time alone, reading and reflecting on ‘the big questions’ life throws at you. Happiness, purpose, fulfilment, the list is long. The two friends act as a lighthouse for each other. A little bit of light, when the world gets too dark.

Both men at separate times struggle with their past, their fathers, their addictions. John’s is pot and for a period of time pain killers. Sam’s is alcohol (like his father). What you get through 300 odd pages of letters is this overwhelming sense of reality. Two men’s genuine lives. Warts and all, as Oliver Cromwell put it. It’s a bitter sweet read at times but, one which is genuinely comforting to the soul.