Monday, June 18, 2012

Someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.

A few weeks ago, I was engaged in a text message conversation with my friend Scott. He told me that his mother had just started reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Of course this incited a torrent of pithy remarks about the sheer ridiculousness of that book's popularity, which seems to be a rather frequent occurrence these days. Amused, he responded, "I really think this is going to be your Catcher in the Rye."

As someone who is usually pretty adept at understanding allusions, I was annoyed when this reference completely escaped me. Unfortunately, I had to ask what he meant. He said something along the lines of "After all three (Fifty Shades books), you're killing Lennon." That was enough for me to Google "John Lennon Catcher in the Rye," which yielded about a million results. Cheating, I clicked on the Wikipedia articled on The Catcher in the Rye, which told me that after Mark David Chapman shot Lennon, he stayed at the scene of the crime reading Salinger's novel. Inside the cover of the book, he had written:

Dear Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, This is my statement.

As if that wasn't intriguing enough, the Wikipedia article also mentioned that the novel has also been associated with two other crimes: Robert John Bardo had a copy on him when he shot Rebecca Schaeffer, and after John Hinckley Jr. made his attempt on Ronald Reagan's life, a copy of the novel was found in his hotel room. 

Salinger's novel has been challenged many times by school boards and parents because of its sexual references and inappropriate language. It was this fact that initially prompted me to read the novel in middle school. That and the fact that I was consistently working my way through every book in the public library. Even though I was enthusiastic about reading a banned book, all I can remember about my first sojourn into Holden Caulfield's world is that I didn't like it. I didn't like the sarcasm, or the way it was written. Of all of the books that I have read and disliked, only two stand out in my memory. One was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, and the other was Catcher in the Rye.

Well, after I found out about the book's ties to the aforementioned crimes, I obviously needed to read (or re-read, really) this novel to see if it made me insane as well. I ran the idea by another friend, Liz, and she told me that the novel was one of her favorites. Whether or not this makes her insane is up to interpretation, but she assured me that Holden Caulfield's humor is similar to hers. Since I enjoy her humor, I went to Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy.

Hoping that I was too young the first time I read the novel, I sat in Barnes and Noble's adjoining Starbucks and cracked the spine. It's a bad habit, but I do it anyway. Sipping my low calorie skinny vanilla latte (iced, of course), I once again stepped into the 1950's life of Holden Caulfield.

Holden initially comes across as a pretty typical seventeen year old boy, which only served to cement my long-held belief that people don't really change over time. He has gotten kicked out of yet another prestigious boarding school, which the reader soon realizes is absurd. It's absurd because Holden is smart, exceedingly so. It is apparent in every word of the novel. He is also potentially manic-depressive, irrational and impulsive, but some of the most intelligent people inevitably are.

The book itself is almost like a stream of consciousness: just several days in Holden's mind. It is at once inspirational and depressing. I found my own emotions following the roller coaster ride of Holden's, and highlighting little tidbits of wisdom that were spewed forth almost casually by Holden and the myriad foil characters that he interacts with.

Honestly, the most frustrating thing about the book is its realism. Holden Caulfield is the least contrived, most alive character that I have ever met. I say met because when you read this novel, that is what you do; you meet Holden Caulfield, and you spend a couple of days with him. You start to wonder whether he'll ever call Jane Gallagher, because Salinger never tells you. Plus, the whole time you're reading, Holden keeps wondering where the ducks from the Central Park pond go in the winter. Then suddenly, the book is over and you never find out. That's terrible!

After the second go-around with this book, I have revised my initial opinion. Love it or hate it, J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye is worth reading. I suggest that you take the time to meet Holden Caulfield. After all, somewhere inside all of us is a seventeen year old rebel.

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