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February Books 2) The Catcher in the Rye

2) The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (.co.uk, .com)

Another one of my reading resolutions. It is mercifully short, which is the best thing I can say about it. Holden Caulfield is a spoilt teenager of the east coast elite; he keeps getting thrown out of expensive boarding schools for doing no work. He is an unattractive character; he learns nothing in the course of the book (a narrative of a couple of days hiding from his family in New York); it's rather difficult to see why his mentors waste much time on him. In addition I found no common ground whatever with his easy access to money and confidence with girls as a sixteen-year-old; my experience was much closer to Brian Jackson's in Starter for Ten. So I am mystified by why this has achieved the cult status that it has, and am left wondering again if there is something about American (non-sf) writing that I have simply failed to grasp.

Top UnSuggestions for this book:
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  2. God's passion for His glory by John Piper
  3. Path of the fury by David Weber
  4. Dark destiny by Christine Feehan
  5. The Valley of vision by Arthur G. Bennett


( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 2nd, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
It was the product of a time, in a lot of ways. The sheer mendacity and pettyness of that particular elite make anomic rebellion make a lot of sense. Even if you want to go more general about it, it's a great book when you're a perceptive but really immature kid who knows that everyone sucks, is full of themselves, etc. And in the time it came out, it apparently felt liberating to read the 'fearless' stuff Holden was saying.

I remember that when we read the book in high school, almost nobody in my grade liked it - I sort of did, but looking back now I can see that had something to do with me being 15. It felt too dated. But, clones like Igby Goes Down pop up every few years, so I'm guessing the whole anomic teenage rebellion meme is alive and well, or at least has a good niche audience.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 08:00 pm (UTC)
And in the time it came out, it apparently felt liberating to read the 'fearless' stuff Holden was saying.

It's my understanding that Holden was considered the first "realistic" teenager in fiction. Me, I think he needed a brick upside the head something awful.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC)
TCITR is one of those books that in my opinion means very little if you read it as an adult but means quite a lot if you read it as an adolescent. In my case, reading it in high school, I sympathised with his alienation.

You might try Nine Stories someday and see if you like it more - it is also quite short.
Jul. 4th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
I second the nomination for _Nine Stories._
Feb. 2nd, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
I think it's a book that has to read when you don't yet realise that everyone else *knows* they are a phony.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC)
I read it as a teenager and thought this was a certain sort of wish fulfillment for a certain sort of teenage boy. It didn't work for me at all.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
I didn't get around to reading it until I was 19 - old enough not to be shocked by the concept that people suck, but young enough to appreciate it.

Even though I'm from that side of the Atlantic, books about rich east-coasters might as well be science fiction for all they had to do with my life.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 08:10 pm (UTC)
I much prefer Franny and Zooey, which is far easier for compulsive overachievers to identify with.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
I'm with you
Feb. 3rd, 2007 04:54 pm (UTC)
That I didn't like, but then I'm a compulsive underachiever.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
I disliked this book intensely and could not figure out why it has become such a classic. If possible, try not to judge American (non-SF) writing by this because you're hardly alone in your opinion.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 08:53 pm (UTC)
Thank You!
I can't stand the character Holden Caulfield. I often thought I must be misreading it as it is held to be a cult classic. It's nice to know that I'm not alone in the world.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
It was my first wife's favourite novel (and she was an English Literature graduate).

Personally, I reacted to it in much the same way as you did - a grossly overrated piece of awfulness.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
Having read this for an assignment when I was in boarding school, I identified with Holden in the most obvious way. I think I even wrote a paper on the "Anti-hero" concept with Holden as my main example. Hey, I was 15, gimme a break. I had not discovered Donaldson yet.
But I agree, the angst of a teenager doen't hold much interest for me 15+ years later.

PS, I remember now my teacher putting forward the idea that we should look at the story as a form of therepy exercise; that Holden was writing in an asylum or hospital... not that it makes any real difference...
Feb. 2nd, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
I think it's because most people seem to read it as teenagers and the asbo taunting (in the years before asbo's) and obnoxiousness of the character appeals to them. Of course, what really irks me is that it's one of the standard junior cert books here and there's really nothing you can do to make it better, in fact, I think it suffers more because of it. Every day I think back, I am so glad that we did 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and that I read it before the dissection. Enforced reading is a sure-fired way to kill a book!
Feb. 2nd, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
I first read it when I was either thirteen or just fourteen. I had no older brothers or sisters, my parents didn't read that kind of book, and I knew nothing about it beyond the title -- I think I vaguely felt it was set in the mid-West because of the 'Rye' in the title, and there wasn't (probab;y still isn't) a blurb of any kind on it. I don't know what I'd think of it now, at nearly 32, but then it was just like a door opening into someone else's life -- I'd never read a book that was narrated like that, and I instantly and completely believed in the character. I think I wrote all my essays in Salinger pastiche for weeks afterwards. When I was 15 or so I much preferred Seymour, an introduction, which I'm now getting an urge to reread.

You quite probably might have hated it anyway, but I think it's definitely a book you need to read when you're young.

Feb. 2nd, 2007 10:37 pm (UTC)
I read this book first at thirteen, and couldn't for the life of me figure out what the fuss was about. I went back to it at 22 wondering if I'd simply missed something about it, and came away with much the same impression. As others on this thread have pointed out, the novel is very much a product of its time, and is remarkable mainly for doing something first than it is for doing it well. I do think Salinger is an incredible writer (9 Stories and Franny and Zooey are fantastic) and Holden is, if nothing else, an extraordinarily realistic character, and deliberately immature and unlikable. Unfortunately, lurking behind the teenaged Holden's disaffection is Salinger's adult version, and instead of distancing himself from Holden, letting the readers see how partial and blinkered his perspective on the world truly is, Salinger turns him into a tragic, misunderstood hero brought down by a society too coarse to understand him. In other words, in the CITR universe, 15 year old Holden's understanding of the world is actually correct. The novel collapses under this implausibility, which is a great shame. If Salinger hadn't been so hung up on his own personal disappointments, he might have written something truly remarkable.
Feb. 2nd, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)
I too am mystified. I first heard of this book when a priest in school read a section to us when we were about 14. It was the section about the boys and girls in the car and, as far as I recall, one boy peeking over the seats to see what the other couple were up to. It was suggested to us by the priest that we should read it as it would be a great enhancement to our development as adolescents.

I read it many years later hoping that it had more sex scenes only to find that the priest had read the most suggestive part of the book. I got to the end of the book wondering WTF that was all about.

I think it might have reached the cult status you refer to as priests all over the world have been telling young boys that it is a dirty book that they are allowed to read. It would explain why so many priests are such screwed up w--k--s.

Alternativel, maybe Mel Gibson was right, and it is the one book used by every spy as a key.

Feb. 2nd, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
You and the rest of the world not from the north-east of America
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 3rd, 2007 12:01 am (UTC)
Wow. I am truly stunned by the slamming Catcher comes in for here. It's one of my favourite books: always has been, always will be. I think the idea that it's some sort of celebration of rebelliousness, or that you're supposed to identify with Holden, is missing the point.

I've always thought it's basically about a disturbed teenage boy whose riddled with survivor guilt because of the death of his brother. The only relationship he values is with his sister, Phoebe. His parents are distant, and he's utterly unable to form friendships or relationships with anyone else. I don't see that he's confident with girls at all - quite the opposite. He's clearly deeply damaged, and on more than one occasion, the people he identifies as phony, clearly aren't - he's a classic unreliable narrator.

And above all, it's Salinger's creation of such a distinctive, unmistakable narrative voice that makes it stand out. I've read his other work, and it's fascinating, but nothing else is so coherent or vivid. I've never perceived Holden as a hero, or a role model - I sympathise with him, but I don't empathise.
Feb. 3rd, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
I read this a few years back, long after I'd served my sentence as a teenager.

And I thought it was a lot better than I had expected. But then I got my copy for 99 pence in the Oxfam shop on the Dublin road in Belfast (happy days!).

What you're all missing, I think, is that Holden's real problem is that he has not been allowed (as a result of the East Coast elite's culture?) to grieve, and process the bereavement he's suffered since the death of his brother. So there's more to it than some spoilt 'golden youth' wallowing in self-pity
Feb. 3rd, 2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
I've read it in 'proper' age, 'Catcher' being in a high school program, and found it very bland. Caulfield character irritated me to no end, throughout all book I kept wishing that someone would give that git real problems.
Jun. 5th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
Honestly, I'm not surprised. Most people find this book an utter piece of crap.

I'm not one of them. In fact, I love Salinger's work, especially this book. I've just finished rereading it. I guess I can see both sides, Holden /is/ a bit annoying, but I can really relate to his repressed grief and depression, and I'm more annoyed that people aren't helping him. It still irks me.

As annoying and 'moronic' and just generally crazy as Holden comes off, this book isn't just detailing a sixteen-year-old boy's jaunt in the 'big city', running on beer and 'daddy's' money. Holden is a classic anti-hero. Look it up. Understanding what an anti-hero is, it was easier for me to see how this became a 'cult' classic.

Put simply, many teenagers (note: many. not all. not some. not most. many.) are depressed, or grieving (not just the dead, but ex-friends, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, divorce, moving, etc.) and don't know how to handle what is going on in their life. These teens feel confused and misunderstood. It is easy for them to relate to Holden who is also misunderstood, grieving, and depressed. I'm not saying that they feel better by reading this, but I can see how some of these teens, especially boys (this is possibly the only book I read in HS that focused on a teenage boy in a totally unromantic POV), would like it.

In the end, Holden is simply retelling events. He's not learning anything. Why must every book be about learning something? His flashback that encompasses the majority of the book shows him falling apart. You can see his decay as he gets closer and closer to a total freak out or suicide or whatever he means in the end by getting 'sick'. The most terrible part is how little attention he actually gets. Can you point out where these mentors (who are they, by the way? his ten year old sister Phoebe?) 'waste much time' on him? As far as I can see, Spencer talks /at/ him, Antolini is a drunken pervert, and in between he visits the only person he can 'connect' with... who just happens to be a ten year old girl.

Most 'great' American writers, no matter what any lit teacher says, are only 'great' because they're dead or their books are banned. In fact, great is really an opinion, and its difficult to judge. Just remember, 'cult' means that its odd, out of the ordinary, and generally offensive or repulsive to much of the general public. 'Cult' is like a car crash, so fascinating you just can't look away, no matter how terrible you think it is.
Jul. 4th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
If you hadn't condescendingly told him to "look it up," this comment might have been somewhat helpful and interesting.

"Anonymous coward." Look it up.
Jul. 4th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC)
Well obviously you are not a teenager or young adult,living in today's would and i understand how you would fail to comprehend to such majestic writing in modern history. YOU SUCK!
Jul. 4th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
You're American, aren't you?

We might take you more seriously if (a) you weren't an anonymous coward, and (b) you used correct grammar and capitalization.

Don't let the doorknob hit you on your way out.
Jul. 5th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm American and disagree with anon (and also disagree with the typos). I managed not to read TCitR until my 20s and found it to be overrated. What's more, I didn't think I'd have liked it any more had I read it in my teens. "Majestic writing"? I've read better... but then, probably unlike anon, I've read a lot more than TCitR.
Jul. 4th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
Three years late to the party and unable to express yourself in coherent English... yes, a refugee from the shallow end of the gene pool has arrived!
Jul. 4th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
I read the book when I was a teenager - I was actually the same age as the character at the time - so I find this argument completely assinine.

It's a coming of age story but the character is completely unsympathetic as he is little more than a whiney boy with delusions of how the world should treat him. I would more associate this with a modern teenager of age 13 than with someone almost finished their schooling.

The fact that nwhyte is not a young adult living in today's world should actually give him more of a view on this character than someone who is given the differences between the era of the book and now. Not to put too fine a point but nwhyte is closer to the years in which the book is set than any teenager reading it now.

Personal opinions on why it's become a cult classic is because a) it's almost always one of the required reading books on highschool / secondary school curriculae and b) teenagers are brats akin to Holden Caulfield who think that the world owes them a living.

The book reminds me of a sign I saw (and that my parents bought to prove a point): "Teenagers, move out now - while you still know everything!"
Jul. 5th, 2010 12:45 pm (UTC)
Didn't I once see you writing about how wonderful Twilight was in an article linked to from somethingawful.com? It's the juxtaposition of would>world that gives it away...
Jul. 4th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
Anonymous cowards are actually the ones who suck
FWIW, I'm an American, albeit a female one from a working class background, and I hated Catcher in the Rye for the reasons you mention -- reading it as a teenager and then later as an adult after friends bullied me into reading it again.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

I did, however, love "To Esme, With Love and Squalor," and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."
Jul. 4th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)
I always meant to read this book and so at some point when out and about book buying I knew I would get it and read it.
Finally I bought a book, brought it home and was most confused by it. None of the themes I had expected were in it- in fact the story was totally different to that which I expected. I remained quite puzzled by it all

It didn't help that the book I had read was "The riddle of the sands" and not "the catcher in the rye" - I don't know how those two titles got confused in my head but they did and I still haven't read TCITR.
Jul. 4th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
I never liked it either, including when I was a teenager. I felt it gave us a bad name. There are teenagers who are not whiney, self-centered, overprivileged brats. I'm hoping to write a book about them at some point; they deserve it more than Holden's type does.

Meantime, why on earth do you allow anonymous commentators?
Jul. 5th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
I moderate rather than ban anonymous comments. Nine times out of ten they are Japanese spam; most of the rest are from my friend Andy "Quarsan" Carling, who hasn't bothered to get himself an OpenID. Only a few are actually abusive - in this case I was amused rather than annoyed and so unscreened it in order to point and laugh. I am gratified that so many people piled on, but I doubt that the original commenter will come back for another look.
Jul. 5th, 2010 10:27 am (UTC)
I read it back in my twenties (about 10 - 15 years ago). I found Holden completely unappealing and unengaging, and the book largely pointless (and was glad it didn't waste too much of my time.) Not sure if it was a symptom of me being the wrong audience though (female, 20-something Aussie, living a goodly time after the period in which it is set) or just poor writing on the part of Salinger. I am usually quite good at being able to place myself in the era and mindset of a novel (ie. take historical context into account), but some books and films still don't translate, or fail to stand up as time moves on, leaving the rest of us wondering what all the fuss was about to begin with.
Jul. 5th, 2010 10:34 am (UTC)
The Catcher in the Rye
Sadly I am old enough to have read this in the 1950s soon after it became popular and when I myself was a teenager. I liked it a lot at the time, and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I found this sentence on Wikipedia: "Rohrer assessed the reasons behind both the popularity and criticism of the book, saying that it "captures existential teenage angst" and has a "complex central character" and "accessible conversational style"; while at the same time some readers may dislike the "use of 1940s New York vernacular", "self-obsessed central character", and "too much whining"." I was pretty big on existential teenage angst, so I guess that diagnosis says it all really.
Oct. 24th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
I read this in high school and really enjoyed it. As mentioned by other users, the book had a lot of teenage angst and grief in it which I could identify with when I read it after moving to a new school and not knowing anybody. I'll admit that Holden is a bit whiny but most of the teenagers I remember in high school always had something to complain about so I don't think that Salinger was too far off.

As far as the whole "Anonymous is a coward!" argument goes; I don't see everyone else plastering their real name up for everyone to see. I'm sorry if you're mad because they don't feel like trying to play the "popularity game" online. Just as someone else said earlier, it shouldn't be the name that matters but the content, or in this case, opinion.
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )

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