Jan 30, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

January 1, 1919 -- January 27, 2010

J.D. Salinger dead at age 91. Immediately, I think of Holden Caulfield... and of Bear and Chicha meeting him one day. How did I meet Salinger's most famous protagonist? I clearly remember browsing through National Bookstore's shelves seeing the book cover and wondering, what is a Catcher - in - the - Rye? Intrigued, I went through the first few pages and I was hooked. Finished the slim novel at home and I was blown away. Gusts-of-wind-coming-from-the-pages-blown-away! I was 14 or 15, going to a traditional catholic girl's school reading Sweet Dreams for fun and Shakespeare for homework, so yes it was that dramatic for me.

I read somewhere that kids these days don't relate to Holden as previous generations did. A 15-year-old New York kid who recently had to read Salinger for school said of Holden: "He should just shut up and take his Prozac." Snarky! Others think of him as a cynical teenager. My two cents: Not at all! He calls for a prostitute -- not for sex -- but because he has no one to talk to and hopes to find kindness in her. He wonders to no end where the ducks in Central Park go for the winter and if they'll be okay. He thinks the only job that would make him happy would be to be the catcher in the rye who saves the kids from falling off the cliff so they could safely play baseball....

Who's really cynical, the "phony" preppie kids or Holden? Is he a young man painfully longing for meaning? Hopelessly existential? Or just whiny and cynical? Do you feel a bit like him when you have to have boring conversations with people?
Thank you J.D. Salinger for giving us a chance to meet Holden Caulfield. Hopefully one day I have a non-boring conversation about him with my own kids. Thank you for blowing my mind. That day I read Catcher, for the first time, I could actually hear someone's voice jump-off the pages of a book. Rest in peace.


Barni said...

Such a coincidence that I chose him to kick off my New Year's resolution to read more of the Great Books. I think cold war America may have been more shocked than we were about the book's irreverence. But these days, c'mon, a word like "goddamn" really rolls off our backs. Holden himself was enraged by graffiti that said "eff you", whereas today the word's a verb and an adverb. There's something so pure and beautiful about Holden's search for truth and genuineness and beauty in the world that I find so interesting. You have to look through the truant and his foul language, seeming lack of care, and his flippant antics to really see him and hear his real voice. Great way to kick off the new year, I must say.

Nikka said...

Yup Barn, you chose a great one to start of your book marathon. I've read a bit about his own life and it seems like he's really Holden. He remained the strange recluse, but the Pollyanna in me thinks/hopes he found answers to his existential longings in zen buddhism. That sounded baduy but I mean it! Haha!

I am so curious to see how our kids will react to Holden. Yup, the novel is dated but to me it's still the ultimate teenage-reading-right-of-passage. To read it as a teen with your own baggage of angst and without having much preconceived notions of what great literature should be.... I like how Philip Roth put it in the NYT obit:

“The response of college students to the work of J. D. Salinger indicates that he, more than anyone else, has not turned his back on the times but, instead, has managed to put his finger on whatever struggle of significance is going on today between self and culture.”

AND... glad you agree that Holden is not a cynic! Just disillusioned yet still looking truth and genuineness.

MZMackay said...

I really enjoyed this post dear Nona. I also enjoyed Barni's comment as well.

I tried to read Catcher In The Rye in highschool, but I could not get through it. Then on Friday night, I went to B&N and saw it displayed everywhere. I think the time has come for me to try reading it again.

Barni, what books are on your list this year? I just had an idea. I'll send you both a private message on FB - Why does that sound funny to me?

Nona said...

Hi Mieke! First, thanks for commenting and making me read my previous comment... typos galore! I meant start OFF in the first sentence and "Just disillusioned yet still looking FOR truth and genuineness" in the last.

A tricky thing with books is we have to read them when the time is right for us... I hope you enjoy Catcher this time. I think you will : )

I remember trying to read Tolkien as a kid - starting with The Hobbit (which in my opinion happens to be the most boring part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Shire described in 6 million words) and I was like... forget this! Years later I see the cartoon LOTR and was so moved by it so I thought: skip the Hobbit and go to the other books then after that... Tolkien rocks!

I had also mentioned Philip Roth above... I'm currently reading The Anatomy Lesson and liking that : )

miri said...

I read "Catcher' as a teenager too ! Holden Caufield = EMO :-) Had it been 50 years laters, he would fit right in with today's generation. Again, the man was ahead of his time

Nona said...

Yup, 50's emo-boy! Today, as a college guy or young man I'd imagine he'd be hanging out in Williamsburg and writing for McSweeneys... or not : )