If a recluse who has been silent for decades dies, does anyone notice? If the recluse in question is J.D. Salinger, then you better believe it. Not only that, a death like this has a rippling effect (albeit slight in the grand scheme of things, but still) across the economy.
The newer-cover edition of Salinger's signature book, The Catcher in the Rye, is now at No. 4 on Amazon's sales list. The classic maroon-and-gold version of the book, meanwhile, is sitting at a none-too-shabby spot on the list, as well: 150. The Kindle-ized Catcher is 68.
It's not just the Hachette Book Group and Penguins' bottom lines benefiting from the unfortunate news. Stories on the enigmatic author have been traffic-magnets for news and culture websites. Taking but one example, The New York Times has been flooding the zone (to borrow their former editor's formulation) with Salinger coverage and readers are responding favorably. Charles McGrath's lovely, lengthy obit is currently the paper's most emailed story and the second-most blogged-about piece. And this map is, um, rad. Slate's billboard, meanwhile, has basically been all-Salinger, all the time since news of his death broke yesterday. It will also be interesting to note how his work is received on the iPad. Facebook is aflutter with Salingerness.
There are several reasons why this death is different than most others. The fact that he was so reclusive is obviously a big one. When it came to Salinger's biography there was still mystery involved, something unknown. In a world where anything can be knowable with a couple of clicks in the time it takes to read this sentence, the unknowable is a precious commodity, indeed.