18. Ah, The Catcher in the Rye, the seminal book of teenage-ness.

I’ve noticed that The Catcher in the Rye is one of those stories that people either love or hate.

For example, the following extract is from an important announcement made by the spokesperson of the “I hate J.D. Salinger” camp (as posted on Wikipedia):

“…The [Wikipedia] article gives the impression that the book is good, but in reality it’s just about a kid who doesn’t try at school and then complains that his life is going nowhere but does nothing about it. The story is really stupid.” —174.91.8.92 00:03, 30 January 2010 (UTC).

Had the rival camp issued a rebuttal – an unlikely occurrence, as such action would have had to permeate their mandatory 16 hours of indifference per day – it would’ve stated that The Catcher in the Rye was the revered angsty teen messiah they’d all been waiting for. Further, it would have pointed out, the messiah has been prophesised to deliver heroic teenagers from the dreaded Day of Doom: the day, ladies and gentlemen, when they would have to take responsibility for their own lives! Needless to say, this camp’s official name is ‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’.

(Remarkably, or maybe not, both parties agreed on all points except for their undying love/hate of the book).

J.D. Salinger

How does one eensy-weensy book, at barely 200 pages long, inspire such feeling?

First, some background: the entire book was written in the first-person narrative of Holden Caulfield, a school failure. Holden is very opinionated about everyone he meets, completely fails at saving money, and likes to hide out from his parents in New York.

Actually, David Bader summed up The Catcher in The Rye in One Hundred Great Books in Haiku. I included the haiku below because it matched Holden’s tone exactly, and I’d just bought Bader’s book, and, also, haiku!

“I flunked out again.

Crumby prep schools. Bunch of dopes.

Boy, I’m not kidding”

The thing that I’ve been putting off telling you, is that I didn’t love or hate Salinger’s novel. And I’m not a lying liar who lies, I’m simply an unreliable narrator. Yep.

Here’s the deal: I didn’t enjoy reading the book, and I didn’t enjoy reading it because it was depressing, and it was depressing because it was a story about depression.

Sure, both the ‘I hate J.D. Salinger’ and ‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’ camps like to fixate on the teenage-ness of the book, and I’m not denying that Holden deals with the issues that have always been lovingly described in the special torture known as the coming-of-age story, but these aren’t all the book is about. Holden was suffering from depression in a time when the condition wasn’t understood and no treatment was available.

In that sense, the book was both insightful and painful. Holden had a nervous breakdown, was chucked in a loony bin for his troubles, and certainly got no better. That is why those people who think of The Catcher in the Rye as only a teen story are making the book far less than it is – they key is that Holden could have been any age and still suffered from the same problems.

I wouldn’t read The Catcher in the Rye again, but, conversely, I’m also cynical about a movie doing the book justice.

Note:

‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’ is only the latest in many different names for this particular group of people. Its current incarnation was a result of the recent popularity of ’emo’, ‘indie’ and ‘hipster’ kids. In spite of this, the ‘I hate J.D. Salinger’ camp name had never changed, probably because members possessed very little creativity between them – don’t forget that it was this camp that made The Catcher in the Rye the most banned book in schools, even whilst it was the second most assigned reading text in the U.S.

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33 responses to “18. Ah, The Catcher in the Rye, the seminal book of teenage-ness.

  1. I am neither a lover nor a hater…. but only because I have never been able to finish it. I just find it so boring, I can’t get through it, despite how short it is. I developed a new motivatino to read it when the author passed away recently, but I still haven’t actually gone and picked it up. Given my past attempts I suspect Ill be in the ‘don’t like’ camp but Ill have to wait and see. Great review though.

  2. *shrieks like a fan girl*

    I was wondering when you would get to this one! I enjoyed reading Catchers! I enjoyed reading this book as a class assignment…I think that I may have been the only one. This was a great coming of age book of Salinger. I think that this may have been in some way autobiographical. Did you find this as well? I am one of those who though this book brilliant! I enjoyed reading as always :D

    • I read that it was quite autobiographical, or at least had a lot of the author’s views in it. It was originally published in serial form after he got mentored by some great writers. Thank you!!

  3. I liked Catcher in the Rye. I could have done without all the swearing (which I’m surprised you didn’t mention) but I could identify with his depression and school troubles.

    I’m not a literary fiction kind of gal but I love your reviews, wonderful!

    Also you are now listed in the Delicious Book Blog Directory.

    • There WAS a lot of swearing, but I felt like it was very in-character for a teenager like Holden, so I didn’t really say anything about it. Thank you for the heads up and the lovely feedback!
      – Ilona

  4. Overall I have to say that I love Holden Caulfield’s view on life and the book as I can relate to his depression and angst. You touch upon a great point about how the book deals with a disease that was not even known as a sickness. Holden most definitely is depressed as are many of Salinger’s characters – two of my favorites being Franny and Zooey (the book titled from these characters). If you like Salinger pick it up. If you hate him don’t. Thanks for your insight into one of my favorite books!

    • I felt like Holden’s depression went by largely unacknowledged by many of the book’s readers, or simply written off as a by-product of his age. If it was just a book about a teenager, then I’d probably have got bored pretty easily. I read that Salinger had PTSD for a while from his days in the war, so that was another facet of the book that I was interested in.

  5. I remember being quite indifferent to Holden, as well; but, oh, how I love this review! Very witty and dead on note about the ‘apathy and hair straighteners 4eva’ group.

  6. “Catcher” is my least favorite work of Salinger’s. Oddly, the language is the most off-putting thing for me- it’s very juvenile and repetitive. Like most teenagers, I find Holden hard to listen to for that long. On the other hand, Salinger is a master at having a character who says nothing about life and everything about life all at once.

    • Salinger’s characterisation was amazing, because Holden was so believable. The downside to that was the way Holden talked, but I liked reading the 40’s vernacular. At least for a bit.
      “Salinger is a master at having a character who says nothing about life and everything about life all at once.” – Love how you said this, because, I think, the book wouldn’t have worked unless it was a first-person narrative.

  7. I’m of the camp that didn’t like the book – didn’t because I’d rather not remember what I was like as a teenager thank you very much. Those years of running the ‘growing-up gauntlet’ should be lived, then promptly forgotten.

    ‘Apathy and Hair Straighteners 4eva!’ – yep, that pretty much sums me up. hair straignteners, depressed attitude, vampire novels, I went through the goth stage of course but it’s still pretty much the same thing. Only more morbid.

    Once again, an excellent review. A pleasure to read.

    • I’m 20 now, so the “growing-up gauntlet” is still painfully fresh in my memory. I don’t think all teens were in that camp, but many people I knew definitely were. I went through maybe a punk phase? But then I realised the clothes didn’t suit me so I stopped – besides I don’t think I could stand my friends at the time.
      Anyway, this is probably why I don’t like coming-of-age stories. Predictable and boring.

  8. Fantastic review. Catcher in the Rye is definitely something everyone should read at least once, but I can’t help but think it’s a little overrated. Have you ever read Franny and Zooey? It’s my favorite Salinger and blows CITR out of the water. Seriously.

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  10. I am always interested in any one’s thoughts about Catcher in The Rye. I first read in high school. Then, I read it as an adult. For some reason, I keep reading it. I don’t think the movie is going to be worth anything.

    • I think the movie will be a tricky thing – if they stick to the ’40’s, it may not be as relevant today; whereas if they modernise it, they would have lost all the essence. I’m not a big fan of movies turned into books (e.g. the latest Dorian Gray wasn’t as impressive as the book), but sometimes it works out ok.
      As for Catcher, I don’t think I’ll be reading it again, although I definitely appreciated the story’s merit.

  11. While I certainly have no issues with the swearing, the prospect of having to review a terribly depressing movie is already depressing me.

    The most banned book AND the 2nd most assigned reading? That’s fairly interesting. “…mandatory 16 hours of indifference per day…” That was pretty funny.

    • I didn’t mean to depress you – if it makes you feel better, Salinger’s estate mightn’t put out, in deference to Salinger’s hatred for Hollywood. That being said, vultures in the form of movie execs have been circling as soon as Salinger’s death was announced in Jan.
      As for the swearing, he says “goddamn” a lot, but I don’t think that’s a swear word anymore unless you live in a convent…?
      That was a weird statistic, huh? It would’ve been more impressive if it was THE most assigned book, but there you go.

  12. woah there’s a lot of comments! I didn’t even realise you had gotten to this book.

    Really liked your review, sorry you didn’t love it- but at least you didn’t hate it. I must say, out of all the reviews I’ve ever read on the book- I’ve never been able to relate to any. I think my love for it comes from the writing and the realness. Something about how Holden judges everyone he meets and the way he describes things… I don’t know, I just *get* it. Not that I’m like him or anything… but I don’t know… for some reason I love his character- like I feel this need to defend him. Tres lame, but ah well.

    Thanks for another lovely review. Before you know it your blog is gonna be on the New York Times and Oprah will be calling you. =)

    • I think Holden is most definitely realistic, and it was for this reason that I didn’t enjoy the book. It was too raw to read again (you know how I like my endings, lol), but I’m glad I did. One thing I loved about Holden was how he insulted everyone (in his head), but still seemed to accept them for who they were.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned the reviews, because after finishing reading Catcher, I headed online to check out other people’s thoughts. This isn’t something I normally do (or, at least, not until after I’d posted my own commentary), but I couldn’t quite work out my feelings. Like you, there was no way I could relate to any of the reviews. They were either praising or bashing the book, but not for the reasons I would’ve said. Then again, I didn’t read that many, but it was still rather bizarre.

      I’ll be sure to mention you when I become a superstar, darrrling ; )

      • ditto on everything you said.

        jaja I just agree with you too much and would end up writing 10 paragraphs on everything you said– without actually really saying anything new. The conversation would never end.

        Look how much I write when I’m trying not to write anything! golly.

        can’t wait for your next review!!

  13. Well, I read ‘Catcher’ when I was about 11, and I couldn’t quite relate with the book, though the prose and a lot of the imagery was fantastic. On the other hand, Salinger’s short stories were just amazing; his, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever read; and I recommend you check it out. Blah, blah, blah.

    Good Review.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, I think I will read it, and only partly because the title is fantastic.
      Good to have you stopping by – I was afraid that you were irrevocably scarred for life, and were no longer able to use the computer after your houseguest… well…

      • I am no longer able to use the laptop or the poor microwave. And, I’m still dealing with the after effects, which appear never-ending. Cry for me, Ilona!
        And definitely check out the story; it was what made him known. Etcetera.

  14. i’m re-reading this book right now. it’s been forever since i’ve read it and i don’t remember much. when i finish, i’ll surely read your review. thanks :)

  15. I read Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school because it was on a list of the most-banned books in American high schools. Honestly, I thought it was only OK. It wasn’t awful, but, if I’d read it cold, if I hadn’t been aware of the hype, I don’t think I would have pegged it as a masterpiece of American literature. I think the haiku summed it up nicely.

    P.S. I really like your blog!

    • Thank you! It’s quite interesting how knowing that a book is literature can make you read it differently – I try not think about things like that during reading, but I don’t think I succeeded entirely.
      The haiku matched Catcher well, didn’t it? Hopefully I’ll read some more books that I can attach haiku’s to.

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