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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:
  1. The supremacy of God in preaching by John Piper
  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


( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
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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
(no subject) - inulro - Feb. 3rd, 2007 04:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
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
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