In Don’t Save Anything, despite its paradoxical title, Kay Eldredge Salter assembles her late husband’s bread-and-butter journalism — yet how delicious good bread and butter can be! ... As always, Salter emphasizes simple, vivifying details. To understand the challenge of ascending the vertical rock face of Yosemite’s El Capitan, 'Imagine a wall more than twice as high as the Empire State Building.' Describing a hospital lab technician, he writes, 'She has blond hair and the decent, American face of a girl in the emergency room who is there when your eyes open and you love her from then on.'”
The pieces range widely, though Salter’s distinctive sensibility and his elegant yet muscular prose help unite them. He writes from a perspective that combines the passionate enthusiasm of seemingly perpetual youth with a knowingness that flirts with but never quite collapses into world-weariness or cynical disappointment, as if always judging things by a mildly anachronistic, honor-based code — masculine, austere and vaguely Apollonian ... Salter’s sensibility is baldly and unashamedly masculine; one does not go to his writings to discover the female perspective on things, and anyone who approaches an essay like 'Younger Women, Older Men' hoping that the the sexism suggested by its title will be subverted in what follows will be disappointed ... Don’t Save Anything does not rise to the level of those astonishing novels, but it rises higher than one would expect. Posthumously assembled collections are usually disappointing and often superfluous. This book is neither; its every page offers pleasure, the profound, joyful pleasure of watching a masterful writer at work.
A few of them cover topics and rehearse memories more richly developed in his superb collection of travel writing, There & Then (2005), and the memoir Burning the Days (1997), which may be his masterpiece. Still, with a biography of Salter yet to appear (his papers at the University of Texas lie in waiting), Don’t Save Anything does more than any publication since the memoir to show us who he was, to 'reveal some of the breadth and depth of Jim’s endless interest in the world,' as Kay Eldredge Salter puts it. That’s all very welcome, and reading Salter on French restaurants or the history of Aspen is preferable to reading just about anyone else on those subjects, but it’s when Salter reveals more than merely his interests that the prose really flickers, as it does throughout Burning the Days ... The truest shame of the bunch is 'Younger Women, Older Men,' a meandering essay full of literary and historical and autobiographical referents, about the attraction of older men to younger women and vice versa ... we should count our lucky stars that this much more of his work is now so close at hand. It’s one more invitation to wade out into the sea where he plunged himself a full 60 years ago and to which he belongs now, a lifeguard on the horizon signaling that the water is just fine.