“From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait’’ (Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School), edited by Paula Lovejoy, is a whopper of a wayback machine. Within its 300 pages are 90 oral histories covering a century of change in the swath of Cambridge encompassed by Harvard, Inman, and Central squares. The S&S Deli is still in business but the Inman Theatre is gone and so is Broadway General Hospital. In the course of doing research for the book, Lovejoy, who lives on Clinton Street, discovered that Abraham Lincoln, when he was campaigning for Zachary Taylor in 1848, spent a night in the mansion that once stood next door to her house.
A memory for a season of giving
Shortly after J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye’’ was published in 1951 to wide acclaim, he left Manhattan for Cornish, N.H., where he lived until he died last year. Though he shunned contact with the outside world, he took the time to respond to a fan letter from a troubled 16-year-old, making a lasting difference in her life.
Joslyn Pine wrote to Salinger in 1963 after reading “Catcher.’’ She doesn’t remember exactly what she wrote, but she does remember being critical of the conformist, materialistic Long Island suburb in which she grew up. “I wrote him just to thank him for giving me a whole new way to look at myself,’’ she said in a recent phone interview. Holden Caulfield, the novel’s narrator, is turned off by the phoniness of the adult world and so was Pine.
Salinger responded to Pine, now 63, writing in part, “I’m afraid I’m at best a one-shot letter-answerer, but I’d like you to know that your letter reached me and was read, I think, as you meant it to be.’’ She cried when his letter arrived, moved that a famous author took the time to write to her. “Thanks so much for that good and generous letter,’’ he began. “Please know that it’s thoroughly appreciated. I note your parenthetical comment that you’re sixteen. Fair enough. And very nice. If people have it in them to write readable and heartening letters, they’ll do it as easily at sixteen as at twenty-six or thirty-six.’’
Pine viewed Salinger’s letter as a validation of who she was: an outsider, yes, but that it was OK. Books became even more of a sanctuary for her, and two years later, at the age of 18, she got her first job in publishing. Pine, now an editor at The Permanent Press on Long Island, has worked with books ever since. In this season of gift-giving, the story of the letter is a reminder of the power of words. It was in that spirit that Pine agreed to be interviewed for publication for the first time about her correspondence with Salinger.
In closing, Salinger wished his young correspondent “a happy and thoughtful life.’’ That she has.
■“Death Benefit’’ by Robin Cook (Putnam)
■“Travels in China’’ by Roland Barthes (Polity)
■“Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Brontë’s Grave’’ by Simon Goldhill (University of Chicago)
Pick of the week
Anita Silvey, creator of the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac website, recommends “Breadcrumbs’’ by Anne Ursu (HarperCollins): “Hazel and Jack are best friends until they have a falling out. When Jack vanishes, Hazel sets out to find him - and discovers that an evil snow queen has abducted him. Ursu skillfully creates a modern-day version of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ in a novel that will keep fourth- to seventh-graders turning the pages to find out what happens next.’’