Catcher in the Rye revisited

I’m re-reading Catcher in the Rye. Again. I read it for the first time when I was about 14 or 15. And, of course, loved it! I carried paperback copy around everywhere, thumbing through it constantly until it pretty much fell apart. After that first time, I read it at least once a year, and often more than once, all the way through undergrad. There was something about it that was a comfort to me, especially as a teenager.

I remember after dropping out of Central Michigan University, after only a week, and feeling like a complete fucking loser, I read it again. Then I read Salinger’s other books — Franny and Zooey, Raise Hight Roof Beam, Carpenter and Seymour: an Introduction, and Nine Stories.

I continued reading it all the way through undergrad. By time I hit grad school, I stopped for some reason.

Not sure exactly what made me pick it up again. I was looking for something to read and it just happen to occur to me that I’d not read it in years. Perhaps find a hard copy of Franny and Zooey had something to do with it.

It was a formative book for me as a teenager, but I suppose that is true for a lot of people. Still, I can’t help wondering if Catcher in the Rye is particular resonant for other GenXers? It strikes me as a particularly GenX kind of book. Of course, it was published at a time when many Boomers were coming of age — 1951. But even so, I wonder if that alone allows them lay particular claim to, which they no doubt will. I suppose the appeal of Catcher in the Rye as more to do with adolescence, never mind a specific generation.

Re-reading Catching in the Rye at 40 is…interesting, I suppose. Of course, it does not strike me as powerfully as it did when I was 14/15. How could it? I still like it to be sure, but at times I find Holden a bit of a whiner. I find myself wanting to smack him upside his head, and tell him to get over himself. Did adults, at the time that Catcher in the Rye was published, have a similar reaction?

Still, for a portrayal of the confusion and drama and dread and angst of adolescence, Catcher in the Rye is the gold standard. Although I can’t help wondering if that Salinger‘s intent. Certainly, if it was, it wasn’t his sole intent. Beyond being a teenager, Holden is a character on the edge of cracking up, which of course he eventually does.

One thing that struck me was the regular reference to pop culture of the time — music, movies, etc. I do this pretty regularly in my own writing. I was, at times, in my graduate writing workshops, taken to task for it, and for a time I worked to refrain from it, but I’ve learned that it is simply a natural tendency and so I no longer try to curb it.

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2 responses to “Catcher in the Rye revisited

  1. Leave it to graduate school to try to ruin a good writer. A small read you might enjoy: “If You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland. She rails against the teacher’s red pen and writes, “the letter killeth…”

    I am ashamed to admit I have never read Catcher in the Rye, but I will now. I have a copy, which I haven’t cracked open since I bought it 20 years ago.

  2. Yeah. I can’t help wondering if that is common — people owning a copy of Catcher in the Rye but not reading it? Of course, I’ve done that too, with other books. I used to do it with Faulkner, with such books as The Sounds and the Fury and Absalom! Absalom! I had copies but never read them. I’d start them and give up. Hard reads that I did not understand. Then I took a graduate seminar in southern writers that covered Faulkner and Welty, and the professor I had helped me understand William. After that I loved Faulkner, and Absalom! Absalom! is one of my favorite books.

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