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12th February
2010
written by Steph

[Apologies for the lack of updates this week - I've been RIDICULOUSLY SICK, and today was the first day since Tuesday that I haven't had an insane fever!] For the past few years I’ve been meaning to re-read The Catcher in the Rye, but never seemed to make the time to do so.  Then J.D. Salinger passed away on January 27, and I finally got the push I’d been needing.  Notorious for being a recluse who hated journalists and publicity of any kind, I figured re-reading the misadventures of misanthropic Holden Caulfield would be an appropriate tribute.  It may still have been more attention than Salinger himself would have liked, given that he never stopped writing but simply stopped publishing, but I still wanted to give the man his due. I can’t remember exactly when I first encountered The Catcher in the Rye, but I do know I was likely far too young to have been reading it; I’m sure I was around 9 or 10… what were my parents thinking?!?  I remember borrowing it from the library and being utterly enthralled by it. I don’t think I was a particularly angsty pre-teen, but I remember hungrily devouring Holden’s narrative and reverently cherishing the novel.  Evidently I loved it enough that my parents gave me a beautiful hard-bound copy for Christmas in 1995  - when I was 12 years old.  That’s the copy that I still read from today, and is the copy I’m sure I read from in Grade 11 English when we studied the novel.  At the age of 15, I think I was better placed to see myself reflected in Holden’s narrative, specifically his vitriolic rage against the phonies and the morons who pester him wherever he goes.  Again, I don’t think I was an especially angry teenager, but… I was still a teenager. Just so you understand my love affair with this book, I admit that as pretentious and uninspiring as it may seem now, in my final year of highschool the quote underneath my graduation photo in the yearbook was the following:
“When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down that goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don't know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, "Sleep tight, ya morons!" I'll bet I woke up every bastard on the whole floor. Then I got the hell out. Some stupid guy had thrown peanut shells all over the stairs, and I damn near broke my crazy neck."
Intense?  Yes.  But those words really encapsulated how I felt about highschool.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.  Tony and I sometimes talk about whether we’d ever do our teen years again, and well, I think with that quote in mind, you can guess my stance on the issue. That said, I approached my re-read of Catcher with some trepidation.  It had been 10 years, give or take, since our last encounter, and I wondered whether the novel would still speak to me as it once did.  I know a lot of people who approach this book later in life tend to be less than impressed with it, and I wondered how I’d relate to Holden, now that I’m older and ostensibly wiser. Despite having read Catcher at least twice previously, I felt like plot-wise I went into the book fairly impressionable, because I didn’t remember much past the first 30 pages or so.  Still, I realized fairly swiftly that there was no way I could objectively assess this book, given its tendrils to my past.  How can I talk about what this book is now, without considering what it has been to me?  I don’t think that I can. The thing is, reading this book at 27 was absolutely very different from reading it as a teen.  Part of me couldn’t really understand why I so fiercely loved the book, what about it fascinated me so much.  Not all that much happens, really, and the writing isn’t especially lofty. However, to give the writing its due, I must say that Salinger had a very distinct, very specific voice.  There are plenty of books that I read where I think, “Oh, this sounds a lot like Salinger”, so whatever one thinks of the prose itself, I think it’s fair to say Salinger was writing with a voice that was uniquely his own. I think the biggest change in reading this book this time round is how it mostly made me feel sad, something I don't think I really felt before.  I was struck by how not quite right Holden is… by which I mean, he is pretty obviously not your average teenager, but above and beyond that, it was painfully evident to me that he was also suffering from some kind of acute depression (maybe even manic depression?).  Yes, I realize that the book starts off with him in a mental health facility, but I don’t think as a teenager I really understood the motivation for his being there, or rather, I felt he had been placed there by his parents who didn’t understand him and didn’t want to deal with him.  But as an adult, I really saw how horribly messed up Holden is. Despite his many proclamations throughout the novel about how “goddam depressed” he is, it was only this time through that I thought that maybe he didn’t just have a bad case of the blues, or wasn’t just being melodramatic the way teens can.  Reading the book this time – no longer blinded by teenage malaise, searching for a kindred spirit - I worried for Holden. When I finished my re-read of Catcher, I felt pretty bereft.  I struggled to articulate to Tony what exactly about the experience had unsettled me, and I think my best attempt was as follows: Reading Catcher at the age of 27, is kind of like running into a best friend from year’s gone by.  You remember all the good times you had together, you still think of them fondly, but just due to the way life goes, growing up, growing apart, that spark isn’t there any more.  No hard feelings, no ill will, you’re not unhappy to see them, but you don’t have all that much to say, and you are soon on your way once more, traveling in a different direction, away from them.  Someone who used to mean so much to you, now you hardly give them a second thought.  For better or for worse, this is how I feel about Catcher. Just as I still have a shoebox filled with prom pictures of boyfriends no more and mixed tapes long since replaced by CDs and ipod mixes, I will still cherish my copy of Catcher, a signpost on my reading journey, a reflection of the girl I once was.   Maybe I will revisit it ten years hence and see what another decade of living allows me to glean from its pages.   I can’t say I’m really all that sad that Holden and I no longer see eye to eye (really, it’s probably for the best!), but I did find this visit bittersweet.  I’ve dipped in and out of Salinger’s short story collection, Nine Stories, over the years, but I’d like to try to read them in earnest, and see how those speak to me now. So for now Holden, we part ways, but don’t worry, I won’t wish you good luck.  I know you’ll be just fine.  And to Mr. Salinger, wherever you are, thanks so much, and I hope you're finally getting the solitude you always wished for. Rating: 4 out of 5

27 Comments

  1. 02/12/2010

    Oh, I’m afraid to read it again for the very same reasons you articulated!

  2. I’m planning to read this for the first time next week, so I haven’t read much of your post. I’m pleased to see that you gave it 4/5 and will come back soon to compare notes.

  3. 02/12/2010

    I wonder what I’m going to think about this book as I first read it almost a decade ago (when I was 22) and don’t remember anything from it at all…

  4. 02/12/2010

    Catcher in the Rye left absolutely no impression on me when I read it the first time around. I’m looking at it on my shelf and wondering how I would feel about it now, at 26.

  5. 02/12/2010

    It’s been a long, long time since I have read this book. Reading your post makes me wonder what I would think of it after all these years. When I read it the first time around, I really identified with Holden and felt that his was a journey that I felt connected to in some way. But since then, I have changed a lot as a person, and have teenagers of my own. I am not sure what I would feel about Holden and his viewpoints at this period in my life, and I am almost afraid to find out. I still have my beat up old copy from high school, which has traveled with me through numerous moves and stages of my life. I remember the story with fondness but I think reading it again might be a bittersweet experience. I so loved reading about your thoughts on this book, and think that I will probably read it again when the time is right. I have heard rumors that there are vast quantities of unpublished material that Salinger left behind, but I wonder if the world will ever see it. Wonderful post, Steph. I hope you are feeling 100% very soon as well. Take care and be well.

  6. 02/15/2010

    @ rhapsody: It was definitely a daunting journey, and one I still have mixed feelings about. I’m glad to know how I’ve changed as a reader, but of course I am sad that the book struck me so differently!
     
    @ Jackie: I’ll be interested to read your thoughts, given that you’ll be experiencing the book for the first time!
     
    @ Amanda: I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts after the group read of this book! Both new perspectives and those who are reading it for a second (or perhaps third!) time!
     
    @ charley: It’s funny to think about how one book can impact people in so many different ways. For me, it was a book I clung to passionately as a teen!
     
    @ zibilee: I wonder how one’s impression of this book might change when one has children! I wouldn’t be surprised if you wound up feeling similarly to me about this one, and “bittersweet” is about right!

  7. Lana
    02/12/2010

    This was an amazing review! I also loved The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager and read it twice. When I tried to reread it a few years ago (I am your age now) it just didn’t go and I couldn’t quite point out why. And now that you’ve written it I can finally understand why I lost Holden along the way. And as you are, I am happy I did. 🙂 Thank you!

    Hope you get better fast!

  8. 02/12/2010

    I read this for the first time in my 40’s. I think I would have felt very different about it had I read it as a teen. As it was I found Holden to be very sad, lonely, and in need of help and a family who would truly pay attention to him and understand his issues.

  9. 02/12/2010

    I also wonder how I’ll view this after all these years. But just like you, I think it hardly matters. However I may see it now, it’ll always have a place in my heart because it was part of who I was, as a reader. This was such a beautiful tribute, Steph. Thanks for sharing.

  10. 02/12/2010

    What an interesting post. I read Catcher over and over again in my teens and as you know I loved it. I forgot about that scene you quoted. I haven’t read it for 20+ years and maybe it is time to revisit it. I’m scared I’ll feel exactly as you did though…I don’t want to ruin the magic but then again it would be nice to visit an old friend.

  11. Sim
    02/13/2010

    I had a similar experience when I reread Catcher a couple years ago; I still see why I loved the book as much as I did as a teen, but it wasn’t the same this time around.

    It’s still one of my favourites, though.

  12. 02/15/2010

    @ Lana: Thanks for commenting! For me, I think part of what I struggled with is trying to reconcile how I once felt about the book and idolized it to how I feel about it now. I admit, I haven’t fully managed to synthesize the two views, and it is a tad distressing! I do feel like I’m mourning the loss of a friend! But I do take solace in feeling that moving on and making new friends (even in book form!) is a part of life!
     
    @ Kathleen: I’ve often found with this book that those who read it when teens have a very different experience than if they read it much later in life! Clearly I would probably have fallen into this boat as well!
     
    @ claire: Yes, you’re right that no matter how I have changed, this book is an irrevocable part of my past as a person and as a reader. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
     
    @ Mrs. B: I think I’m coming to realize that there are few books that manage to retain their magic over the years. Sad, but true! I think that even though this one didn’t hold the appeal for me that it once did, it will always be special and a book that I cherish just because of everything it represents!
     
    @ Sim: Oddly I’d say that this is still one of my favourites too, even though it was different this time through! I can’t bear to think of it as anything but!

  13. 02/13/2010

    Great review. I keep meaning to revisit Catcher, too. I read it as a teenager and loved it, but that was 30 years ago!

  14. 02/14/2010

    I’m about to read it for the very first time. I’m afraid it’s going to make me feel old!

  15. 02/15/2010

    Great post, Steph. I loved the book when I was a teenager, but if I were to read it now at 31, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t like it as much. I think your explanation (running into an old friend) perfectly encapsulates the way I would feel about the book.

  16. 02/15/2010

    @ Nicola: I wonder how I might have felt if I’d touched base with Holden a bit more frequently rather than letting 10 years go by… I guess we’ll never know!
     
    @ softdrink: I look forward to your thoughts, whether they are about your age or not! I guess in some ways this book made me feel old, but I thought I might hate Holden because I have so little tolerance for teenagers these days, but thankfully that didn’t happen! 😉
     
    @ Nadia: I think some books more than others are meant for certain times in our life. What book better encapsulates adolescence than Catcher? I can’t really think of any, at least not my own adolescence, so for that reason I’ll always cherish it!

  17. 02/15/2010

    I read it as a teen, and then in college, and then last year. Last year, I spent the first 150 pages hating Holden. And then I ended feeling sad for him, as you say. Very similar to how I felt in the end. I don’t think I’ll ever reread it but there definitely is something there teens relate too.

  18. 02/15/2010

    Hmmm….I just finished a book that reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye, except it’s more of an updated version, set in the 80-s with MTV and seedy bars—Less Than Zero.

  19. Steph, I hope you have fully recovered from the flu now!
    I had a very similar first reading experience of Catcher to you; I borrowed it from the library at an age that was way too young to appreciate it or fully understand it. I imagine that the next reread will be similarly bittersweet.

    Salinger’s passing prompted me to finally read Franny & Zooey, which I shall be posting about soon.

    Psst, once you’re fully recovered could you update my new site on your blogroll please? Thanks!

  20. Kuehn side of the family
    02/15/2010

    If memory serves, wasn’t this book banned at some point? I know there was some considerable controversy. Of course that would be enough to make you want to read it.

  21. Sorry to hear that re-reading was a disappointment. I have a few childhood favourites that I’d love to re-read, but I’m worried that my magical memories will be ruined, so I’m putting it off.

    I wasn’t a fan of this book as an adult. I’d love to know what I’d have thought as a teenager.

  22. 02/17/2010

    @ Rebecca: I remember that you were less than impressed with this book when you re-read it last year. It’s always sad when a favorite book from our youth doesn’t hold the same appeal, but I guess that’s what keeps us trying new books!
     
    @ Matt: I read your review for Less Than Zero, but since you gave it a “Skim” rating, I’m not sure I’ll be picking it up any time soon…
     
    @ Claire: I read F&Z near the beginning of last year, and I thought it was ok, but didn’t really love it. I’m hoping I have better luck with Nine Stories!
     
    @ Tony’s family: Oh yes, this book has been challenged (and likely banned) ever since its publication! And yup, that would pretty much be enough to pique my interest! 😉
     
    @ Jackie: I have had good luck with most of my re-reads! I think this book more than most encapsulates a very specific time in one’s life, so it may not hold up as well to later re-reads. Knowing me, I will probably read it again some day, just to touch base with Holden!

  23. 02/18/2010

    I read this when I was an impressionable teenager …somewhere around 11-12 something like that.

    I guess I recognized it as depression masked by anger even then, but I just didn’t understand the full reasoning behind it. The book left me feeling moody and snappish for weeks.

    I dread reading this book again because I don’t want to get so affected a second time around.

    Looks like you dealt pretty well with the second reading 🙂

  24. i can’t help to feel a bit sad by your re-read of catcher. holden is trapped, a static teenager, in his novel and hasn’t changed…but your perception of him (and the novel) has changed because you are dynamic and aging. 🙂 does that sound weird?

    i’m not saying anything negative about you, just about how WE change as people and books don’t. books i loved as a teen don’t have the same power over me today because i’m different…not the book. am i making any sense here?

    i guess seeing this in black and white reinforces the fact that time marches on and we’re getting older. (a bit maudlin today, nat?!?! lol.)

  25. 02/22/2010

    @ nat: I see exactly what you’re saying. When books change for us, it’s not because they actually are different, it’s because we are. And you’re right that realizing time marches on can be depressing and the stuff of malaise and angst… and I thought my teen woes were behind me! 😉

  26. Nadia Scores
    02/23/2010

    The Catcher in the Rye‘ has been one of the most frequently taught books and one of the most banned. But no one can deny its place in American literature. The book was first published in 1951 and Salinger published his last book in 1965. After that he became a social recluse who continued his writing, but not for the public. He asserted that writing for him was a private affair. He granted no interviews nor did he make any public appearances. His death last month, again, brought up the issues of social alienation and isolation, a theme that runs through `The Catcher in the Rye’. Browsing through Shmoop.com I came across some enlightening comments that helped me understand this classic better.

  27. 02/24/2010

    @ Nadia: Oh, I agree that The Catcher in the Rye has an important place in American literature. I just think it’s one of those books where there may be a critical window in reading it and really connecting with it!

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