The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
What the Back of the Book Has to Say:
Nothing. It's just a reprint of the art from the cover of the book.
Why I Picked It Up:
Another 'classic' I had never actually read in school.
What I Think:
As you probably remember from the rant I went on during the Of Mice and Men post, I'm not the biggest fan of American literature. I tend to find it boring, long and full of "American-ness" that has been beaten into me so much during school that I don't want to read it in my off time. That was the first bone of contention I had with this book-- the simple fact that it is categorized as an "American Classic."
Problem number two for me was the introduction I had to the book. I had it in my bag because I knew I was going to finish Upon a Dark Night that day so I pulled it out with only a few stops to go on my train line. Because of this, I only managed to read about the first six pages or so before my stop arrived. The first six or so pages introduced me to a first person narrator (oh no) and a boy who didn't apply himself in school, along with swearing every third word.
My next encounter with the book was the next day as I sat down to read it in my hour break between my Preschool Advanced class and my private lesson. I had been developing a headache all day and it came crashing down on me during that break. I think I managed to read one page. On the train ride home, I couldn't read, couldn't listen to my iPod, only managing to close my eyes and try to ignore the racket of the train and the chattering of the people around me.
All these things set me up to hate this book. All of these things, as well, were not in a single way the novel's fault.
I had been emailing with one of my favorite professors, the illustrious BDH, the night of the awful headache and threw in at the end of the email that I was reading Catcher in the Rye. I only asked "Is he going to be this insufferable all the way through?" I got an almost immediate reply.
"Yes, but he's loveable, too--he's facing the world of the 50s, which is actually the early 60s, and it is/was an insufferable world, which is why Salinger wrote the book--he is distorted by the times--he cannot be open or free, nor can any one else. BUT, good news, he heralds the coming revoution--he dares to be different. He is Kerouac and his buddy "on the road!" it's the beginning of a new era--after that try anything else of Salinger, too--Nine Stories, Franny & Zooey, Raise High the Roof-beam, Carpenter! and others--you'll like it."
As I trust and respect BDH's opinion, I tried to go back to the book with a more open mind. After all, all my previous problems with it really were my own hangups.
Well, thank heavens that I listened to BDH's email because I think I loved it. I say "I think" because I'm still not one hundred percent sure how I feel about it but that phrase "he's loveable, too" really stuck in my head as I started to really get into the novel. It's completely true. Holden Caulfield is insufferable but it's because he's so mixed up. Deep down, he's a good kid-- he cares about women, children and people in general. He just can't cope with the adult world or indeed, pretty much any of his surroundings.
Holden hates change, he hates maturity and, obviously, he hates "phonies" and this two day journey around New York with him sees him try to run away from his problems, only meeting with disillusion at every turn. It's bleak but at the same time, it's completely relatable, especially to a twenty-three year old that has just graduated into the real world.
I hear that this is a book you either love or you hate and I think I sit on the 'love' side of that bandwagon. I can easily understand why people hate it, though-- probably got as hung up on Holden as I did in the beginning. This is a book, I think, that you have to try a little harder at, play with that first person narrator a bit and dig around the edges of the information that he drops and leaves, never looking back. It's not open and shut (as nothing but a romance novel should be) but it's accessible.
And it's official: there is an American Classic that I enjoy. What am I going to do with myself?