Sunday, December 7, 2008
The Catcher in the Rye
I recently finished The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger--the iconic novel of adolescence that everyone read in high school, except me.
I enjoyed Catcher in the Rye a lot more than I expected to: great style, hits every basic literary theme, a believable narrator, etc. But I seem to feel more ambivalent about the book than most readers. Ed. Williamson on Epinions.com notes that from its publication date, Catcher in the Rye slammed "into the American consciousness with all the subtlety of a herd of bulls in a china shop." Most of the comments I heard before reading were that it was a "whiny, emo book" loved only by people who were emotionally immature (which made me fearful) or that it was THE only Great American Novel (which made me sceptical). Possibly its only unargued position in the literary cannon is as both one of the most widely assigned, and the most widely banned, novels in U.S. high schools.
After A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham and Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich, Catcher in the Rye seemed fairly tame. In spite of his language, drinking, and nervous sexual endeavors, Holden strikes me as a bit of an innocent. Being far enough removed from high school, I feel a sort of maternal sympathy/concern for him (and, at times, a maternal desire to shake some sense into his head). But in high school, yes, Salinger's hero would have annoyed and disturbed me.
It's amusing/sad that this novel is now considered a "teen" book and almost exclusively assigned in high school (Huckleberry Finn suffers a similar fate). I actually find it more interesting (read: "less painful") to read about adolescence now that I'm done with it. When I was a teenager, I preferred books that explored (an exciting) adulthood.
Side Note: While we're on the topic, here's something wonderful: Catch Her in the Oatmeal.