chasitymoody’s #CBR4 review #3 – The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Way back when I was doing the banned book challenge, I reviewed this book against my better judgement. You see, I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time when I was 15. I didn’t see what all the fuss was about, but I could at least say that I read it.
The format was different for that review, so I didn’t go into nearly as much detail about what I disliked about the book. I pretty much boiled it down to the Holden Caulfield.
This time, I decided to look at it with fresh eyes. I didn’t suddenly become a fan of JD Salinger. I only decided to re-read this book because I have a deal with a friend of mine. After a great deal of drinking at a mutual friend’s birthday party, I told my friend David that I would re-read The Catcher in the Rye, if he would read any one of the Harry Potter books (David, you better come through on your part of the bargain).
I wasn’t being perverse. I simply believe that any book that ends up on the banned/challenged list deserves to be read. Since, I had already read The Catcher in the Rye, it was only fair that he at least read one Harry Potter book (since they had all been challenged at some point).
The last time I read it (before my deal with David), I was 30. I’ve read it a couple of times in between that first time and that last time – mainly for freelance work but also because people kept telling me that I should love it and I must have missed something if I didn’t.
But, honestly? I think people are full of crap when it comes to book reviews (so take this one and all others with a grain of salt). I think think that you either like something immediately or you don’t. The things you don’t like may get your respect later on, but chances are that you won’t ever love them the way everyone thinks you should.
The Catcher in the Rye is a pretty traditional coming of age story. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, is experiencing an awareness. He is starting to realize important things like, people are phony around each other, and adults lie for a myriad of reasons. He is also having a nervous breakdown of sorts. Or, maybe it isn’t a breakdown. Maybe, he is at that point of awareness when he is no longer a child, but he isn’t an adult quite yet. But, adulthood, and all of its unknowns, are waiting for him and he is fighting it tooth and nail.
After being expelled from yet another prep school, he decides that he needs a vacation. Plus, he wants to put off having to go home to his parents. It’s in that 48 hour time span of his “adventures” in New York that we see his breakdown. He spends his time moving from euphoria to introspection and depression. He realizes that people are willing to ignore his off-the-wall behavior (what he calls his “madman stuff”) as long as it doesn’t really involve them or affect them in any real way.
As readers, we are left comparing reactions. There are the reactions of the people to Holden and Holden’s reactions to the people around him. Is Holden insane? Or, is Holden the only sane person in a world full of lunatics?
For me, this book feels like self indulgent tripe. Every person in the world has wondered whether or not it’s them or the world that’s crazy. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to that feeling because they have very little experience in the world of adults as adults themselves. I knew that at 15. And, at 15, my brain wasn’t even fully developed yet (no teenager’s brain is – no matter how mature they seem).
At 15, I thought Holden should have to experience public school while working in the food court of a flea market if he wanted to find out just how “phony” people could be. I thought he was a spoiled brat who took for granted that he could simply be expelled from an expensive school and let his parents put him in a new one. Hell, this kid could just run away to New York and stay with friends without telling anyone – all the while complaining about how difficult life was for someone as “different” at he was. What right did he have to complain about phonies and liars?
Looking back now, I still feel that way about him. Holden was the biggest phony of the story. Sure, he had his reasons for being upset with the way his life was going, but he was still behaving as though he were the only person on earth that had lost a sibling or distrusted an adult or just didn’t get that people couldn’t be themselves one hundred percent of the time. And that may have even been the point, but it didn’t make it any more enjoyable or enlightening as a read.
I still believe that Holden is one of the most unlikeable protagonists to ever exist in print. I get that plenty of teenagers are entitled and self-righteous and even ridiculously dumb about life and the way the world works. But, there is no great Truth that comes from reading this book. There isn’t even a sense of empathy – at least not from me. There is only Holden being a dick to everyone around him and believing the world owes him some explanation for the way it just is. And, I want to reiterate that I felt this way when I was 15 and completely underdeveloped in intellect.
Maybe the reason I dislike this book so much is because of how typical he is as a teenager – he whines when things don’t go the way he wants, he wants to be treated as an adult with no real adult responsibility, and he never accepts responsibility for his actions. And, that would be completely fair since I had no tolerance for that type of behavior even when I was a teenager.
But, I think it’s more because I have no connection to a book about a rich, spoiled, white kid that wants the world to conform to what he, in his limited life experience, believes.
While, I would never recommend this book, I do think that it’s one of those things that everyone should at least attempt to read.
Read it because it was banned/challenged, or read it just so that you can disagree with the people (like me) who thought it was a hack job of a coming of age story. No matter your reason for reading it, I want to hear what you thought of it. Because, even though it’s clear that I won’t change my mind about it, I love hearing other people’s opinions on it.
Image via fadingtwighlight0