tek's rating: ½

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger (pub. 1951)
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Caution: I don't think there are any spoilers here, per se, but you might disagree. (Though speaking of spoilers, I wanted to mention at one point the protagonist is talking about a movie or something, and says he doesn't want to spoil it. I thought it was funny, because I only really think of "spoiling" as a concept that's been around as such since maybe the 80s or 90s....)

Anyway, where should I start? This was, of course, written well before my time. I know that it has often been banned from schools or whatever, but it has also often been required reading. I'm afraid I never read it in school, as it was never required, but I'm fairly sure it was never banned at my schools, either. I finally got around to reading it for the first time in 2010 (at the age of 34). I can't help but wonder what I would've thought of it if I'd read it when I was a teenager. I might have liked it more, or less. But certainly, I've heard of the book, and its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, often enough over the years, in various media. At one point in my reading, I came across a line that was used in the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which amused me because I'd totally forgotten about that. Anyway... J.D. Salinger died in January of 2010, and not long after that I bought a few of his books, including this one, at a used book store. Didn't get around to reading this until September, though. Another reason I wanted to read it this year was an episode of South Park which aired in March, in which the boys had read the book in class and found it boring and decided to write their own book which they thought would be more deserving of being banned than this one.

Anyway, I know The Catcher in the Rye is supposed to be this great classic of modern literature, or whatever, full of, you know, iconic stuff about the universal teenage experience, lost innocence, rebellion, and all sorts of symbolism. I can see that, though not as much as perhaps I should, because I wasn't looking very hard (after all, it's not like I have to write a report for a grade, or anything). I just wanted to enjoy the story. And I did, though it's all pretty random. Holden is narrating a story about a few days in his life, shortly before Christmas, when he was 16. It's not exactly clear to whom he's telling the story, or where he is at present. But he's telling the story sometime the next year, I guess.

Basically, he'd just been expelled from a boarding school called Pencey Prep, because he'd failed every subject except English. He probably could pass anything, if he made an effort, but he just didn't, because he didn't like anything else, I guess. He's already been kicked out of at least a couple other schools before Pencey, though throughout the book we occasionally see that he's had good relationships with some of his teachers at various schools. Anyway, he's supposed to go home for Christmas break on Wednesday (and then just not return to school), but he decides to leave on Saturday night. He plans to spend the next few days in New York in like a hotel or whatever, because he doesn't want to see his parents yet, who don't know that he's been expelled. Again.

So, we get to see what happens to him on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I mean, in pretty great detail, he tells us everything that happens and everything he's thinking. There's one part towards the end where he's visiting an old teacher from one of his previous schools, and tells him about a course he really hated at Pencey, Oral Expression, where students had to give speeches and had to stick to the point and not get sidetracked. I liked the fact that he hated that so much, because the whole book is very stream-of-consciousness. Holden's own narration is constantly going off on sidetracks. And I really like that about the book. I mean, the whole point is just the way Holden thinks and talks and feels. The plot is pretty much beside the point. It's all about getting to know Holden, and all his sidetracks are how this is achieved. We get to know not just what he's doing at the time his story is about, but about important things from his past, how he feels about them, and how they've affected the way he feels about the things he experiences now.

And he's definitely an interesting character. His slang is somewhat dated, for someone reading the book 60 years after it first came out, but it's not that dated. There's lots of swearing, which is just one of the reasons the book was banned, though as the South Park kids would attest, it's a bit tame by today's standards, or at least... commonplace. I mean, some people today might be offended by such language, but they certainly shouldn't be surprised by kids talking that way, as they might have been in the 1950s. There are some things that are more dated, in my eyes, though. I liked one part where Holden says this woman he met had a telephone voice, and should carry a phone around everywhere. It's kind of amusing to me to think of how ridiculous that would've seemed when the book came out, compared to the present, when everyone does carry a phone everywhere, y'know? And there was a part where he went up to a little kid sitting alone in a park to ask if she knew his own little sister, Phoebe. You sort of can't really imagine someone doing that in this day and age, or if they did, you'd expect some concerned parent to rush over and act like the guy was a child molester or kidnapper or something. Of course, that isn't even an issue, in the book. I suppose if I wanted to get all analytical I could compare the book's theme of individuals' lost innocence as they grow up to society's lost innocence in the last few decades... but I don't really feel like it.

Anyway, I don't think I should really reveal anything in particular about the plot, I mean what Holden does over the course of these three days, or anything about his past, or whatever. I mean, he talks about lots of people he's known at various schools, and his family, and all. He has an older brother named D.B., who is a writer in Hollywood. He had a little brother named Allie, who died. And he has a little sister named Phoebe, as I mentioned, who's like ten. He was clearly really close to Allie and is really close to Phoebe, too. He thinks of his siblings as all being quite smart, and himself as dumb, but he's clearly not dumb. I mean, he acts that way sort of, but he's obviously intelligent; he thinks a lot, and he reminds me of myself, that way. Personally I can't stand how my brain never freakin' shuts up, it's annoying as hell. But it's interesting to see how Holden's mind works. It can be like poignant and stuff, but also it can be really funny, even if I don't agree with everything he says. I definitely agree with a lot of it, at least to an extent. Um, I did want to say that he admits early on to being a liar, which made me constantly wonder if any of his story was even true or not. Especially as he could also be a writer, potentially, so I think making all this in depth stuff up would come naturally to him, as real as it all seems. But I don't think he was making any of it up.

As I was reading, I kept thinking of things I'd say when I got around to writing a review, like about Holden's style of storytelling. How he has all these turns of phrase he uses over and over, and adds the word "old" to just about anyone or anything, regardless of age (like his little sister, "old Phoebe," for example). I suppose it's not really uncommon for people to do that, but to the extent he does it... wow. And how he exaggerates the hell out of everything. And how he'll talk about stuff he hates other people doing, and then he'll do the same thing himself, and I'm not even sure he realizes that. Though he does seem incredibly introspective and really knows himself better than most people know themselves. And he thinks about others probably to a greater degree than most people do, though I think he's unfair in how he thinks of people. He seems to think practically everyone is a phony, which he hates, but I doubt he's right about all of them, at least not totally. But it's also kind of funny that he himself can be sort of phony, I mean being a liar and all, though I don't think he realizes that, either. It was clear to me in at least one place in the book that he can phrase the same idea two different ways and genuinely see them as two different things. But anyway, I'm sure I've forgotten lots of things I wanted to say, and probably I've said too much already.

Yeah, anyway... the point is, Holden's just a really interesting, thoughtful character, with whom lots of people should be able to identify. He gets depressed a lot, and seems to hate a lot of people, but only for a little while, as he himself says. There's also lots of little things that make him happy, and lots of things that make him like people, or feel bad for people even while he dislikes them. Yeah, he can simultaneously talk about liking and disliking people or things, which is another thing that reminds me of myself. So anyway... it's a short book, a quick read, and it's definitely well-written and... insightful, I guess. There's just a lot about it that's really good and definitely worth reading. And most people will probably tell you they like to read it multiple times and always get something new out of it. I dunno, maybe if I read it again someday I'll like it better than I did the first time. I mean, I really did like it. And it's the kind of thing that puts me in the mood to try to copy the character's style of speaking, though I'm doing my best to refrain from that, in this review. I mean, it's sort of in my own style of stream-of-consciousness, rather than Holden's (though both of us say "I mean" a lot); but I've always liked writing stream-of-consciousness, myself. But still, I dunno if I want to read it again. Maybe someday. I don't quite see the point, but we'll see. Anyway, the end is sort of unclear to me, but others may tell you what it means, I mean where he is and who he's been telling all this to. I dunno if I agree, but I don't disagree, anyway. Though there's one scene toward the end that... I think I interpret differently than some might. I mean, is Holden just getting sick, or was he drugged? This relates to something Holden himself was unsure about, though I don't think the possibility of drugging occurred to him. Anyway, I don't want to say anything about the scene I'm talking about. But that's not quite the end, anyway.

Anyway, that's all I can think to say. Good book, but I didn't love it. That's all. Oh, but I should say I also really liked old Phoebe. And also I should mention what the book's title is about. Holden misremembered a line of a poem by Robert Burns. I never heard of the poem or the poet. But anyway, what Holden says about it when talking with Phoebe, I guess it's kind of important. I dunno.


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(Image is a scan of my own copy.)