Monday, January 14, 2013

The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger

TITLE: The Catcher in the Rye
AUTHOR: J D Salinger
PUBLISHER/YEAR: Little, Brown, and Company/1991 (originally 1951)
SOURCE: Purchased


You ever have those books that you really want to love, but just don't? The Catcher in the Rye is like that for me. I've read it a few times now and every time I open it up convinced that this is the time I'm going to fall for Holden. He's a disaffected youth, angry at the world, angry with himself. He's just struggling to get by and doesn't know what he wants or stands for. This is kind of a theme I love in rock songs, apparently in literature not so much for whatever reason. Although, maybe I can appreciate it now that I'm a little older?

So brief summary, Holden Caulfield has just been expelled from yet another prep school. He's surrounded by phonies. He's angry at the world. He doesn't want to face his parents so he takes the little money he has and runs away to New York for a few days until his school is set to go on winter break. He runs into pimps and prostitutes, questions the morality of modern life and tries to buy drinks before eventually getting sucked into his perpetual downward spiral.

Intellectually I enjoy this book. The themes are rich and it left me really wanting to write an essay to further explore its meanings. Holden is just such a confused character caught in a tragic cycle. Salinger really captures that trapped feeling that so many teenagers (at least in my experience) face. Holden doesn't know what he wants, but he knows what he doesn't want. He hates what he sees in the world, but can't change it. He's caught at this difficult time period between adulthood and childhood innocence. He doesn't want to lose his innocence and the way he views the world, but he feels everything slipping away from him quickly. It's a fascinating and heartbreaking character study really. 

And I mean this really was a groundbreaking book. It was published in 1951. This was an era when juvenile delinquency was a hot topic. Think Rebel Without a Cause here. It was post war, a generation kids had grown up without any stability after the depression and war and people were freaking out. For Salinger to write this book featuring a clearly troubled youth, that was something. It deals with some very difficult, but real topics that young people actually face. I do think Salinger accurately captured the era's feel, from the adults on the periphery through to Holden.

So those are the reasons that I really want to like the book. I respect the book. But I just don't like it. It's not a book that I find easy to read if that makes any sense. There are difficult books that can draw you in, but this was a book that I was alienated from throughout the entire reading process. I couldn't engage with Holden and the story is told from his perspective. I didn't like it on a gut level. I like getting so sucked into a book I can't put it down and that just isn't this particular book. 

That's okay. I still love exploring the ideas presented in the book and I've always liked the idea of it being covertly passed from teenager to teenager. Okay, so that probably doesn't happen frequently anymore, but it's kind of a romantic idea no? Basically I totally get why this book is a classic and now I'm trying to track down some scholarly papers on the book and Salinger to try to put it into context (I'm super nerdy, sue me). It definitely captured my attention intellectually; it's just never going to be my go to read for a rainy day. 

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