The Catcher in the Rye

By J. D. Salinger
After I’d told her I had to meet somebody, I didn’t have any goddam choice except to leave. I couldn’t even stick around to hear old Ernie play something halfway decent. But I certainly wasn’t going to sit down at a table with old Lillian Simmons and that Navy guy and be bored to death. So I left. It made me mad, though, when I was getting my coat. People are always ruining things for you.

The more I try to write about this book, the more I feel like I can’t remember what happened, can’t quite nail down what I liked or why I liked it.  Because I did like it.  I was warned that I wouldn’t like it.  I was told that this book was controversial.  I was told that “This book changed my life, but you’ll probably hate it.”  So I didn’t quite know what to expet when I started reading it, but I understand now why peope say they loved it but remain convinced that no one else will.

First, it’s not really about anything.  Holden Caulfield is a  young kid in high school who gets kicked out of his boarding school at the end of the semester for poor grades.  He doesn’t want to stick around his school any longer, because he pretty much hates everything and everyone.  But when he gets to New York City, he doesn’t want to go home and explain to his parents why he’s back early.  So he gets a cheap hotel room and hangs out around bars and the hotel lobby for a couple days feeling down about everything and thinking about how everyone he knows and meets is either a) super fake or b) stupid for buying into all the fakeness.

Then there’s the way Salinger writes the book.  The entire story is one giant stream of consciousness from Holden’s point of view.  He goes somewhere, thinks negative thoughts about people and things, goes somewhere else, thinks negative thoughts about those people and things, decides to go somewhere else, and so on and so forth.  In a way, that’s one reason the book is so difficult to put down.  You start reading it, and you immediately get sucked into this 16-year-old kid’s thoughts.  And there’s no break or good spot to stop, because Holden never stops thinking until the very end of the book.  But this is also why it seems like it should be boring, becasuse c’mon.  Even a 48-hour livestream Bill Gates’ thoughts would probably be boring and disjointed.

So this is the crux of the whole thing.  Looking at Catcher in the Rye objectively, it seems like it should be a boring book.  And when people ask what it’s about, it’s kind of difficult to explain.  I would guess when most people read this, they feel a personal connection to it they don’t think anyone else will understand.  So people think as much as they liked it, no one else will.  But most everyone has had those types of days before.  Alsmot everyone can relate to Holden a bit, because we all know what it’s like to feel lost and pointless and totally, completely misunderstood.  Salinger’s ability to take this unpleasant experience and make it oddly captivating makes this book impressive.  He writes a razor-sharp critique of society and its frequent fickleness using emotions that are often all too familiar for many young adults.  If you want to know what growing up feels like or if you want to relive those strenous days, this is the book.  It’s Salinger’s way of looking straight at you and saying, “Welcome to adulthood.  It’s not always what it’s cracked up to be.”

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