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More 'gripey and complaining' set for 2015.
August 2, 2014 3:26 PM   Subscribe

"It's annoying to hear we told you so—but, we told you so. The New Republic's initial review, published July 16, 1951, perfectly anticipated all the gripes and complaints readers would ironically come to have about Catcher's gripey and complaining protagonist." 63 Years Ago, We Knew That 'The Catcher in the Rye' Was Insufferable and Overrated.

More works by J.D. Salinger are set to be published in 2015. NPR and The Guardian report on the subject of the previously unpublished stories.

From The Guardian

A book for the beach: Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye at 60: Ten things you should know

Previously on the blue: Is "Catcher In The Rye" outdated and outmoded? | Salinger Betrayed
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (109 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always hated Catcher - hated the book, hated the characters, hated the breathless obsession that the ret of the world seems to have for it. Glad to know I was ahead of the times.

Though if nothing else the book is a key part of Frank Portman's excellent King Dork, so that's a plus.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:31 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he...thought he was.
Wow, so sharp. I wonder if as she read Lolita she began to get a bit pissed off with that Humbert Humbert guy and how he seemed to think he was so blameless in everything that happened. Stupid Nabokov.
posted by yoink at 3:32 PM on August 2 [49 favorites]


It's okay, Holden was on to them phonies from the get-go.

"I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot."
posted by chavenet at 3:37 PM on August 2


Boy it's almost like Holden is an unreliable narrator and we're not supposed to agree with him!

(I mean, I still don't like the book, but not because Holden is whiny, that's his primary character voice- he's a vacuous self-absorbed teenager who thinks he's smarter than everybody else ...you know like a lot of teenagers. I just don't like spending time with those guys, but hell this was the book we got in High School to introduce the concept of unreliable narrator for christsakes - it's literally the same situation as Lolita where the primary character gets to tell his version of the story where he's the hero while we the readers are noticing all these things that don't add up to that.)

Also I wouldn't use New Republic to line a birdcage.
posted by The Whelk at 3:38 PM on August 2 [22 favorites]


And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was.
Emphasis mine.
posted by breath at 3:40 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Also I wouldn't use New Republic to line a birdcage.

hahahaha this is perfect you are perfect
posted by liketitanic at 3:41 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


( eh authorial intent only goes so far. i'm not a fan of Salinger's other stuff either but after a certain point what the author intended doesn't matter anymore.)
posted by The Whelk at 3:41 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Wow, so sharp. I wonder if as she read Lolita she began to get a bit pissed off with that Humbert Humbert guy and how he seemed to think he was so blameless in everything that happened. Stupid Nabokov.

Nabokov's whole point is that Humbert is a duplicitous creep -- i.e., that he is not only just an unreliable narrator, but a deeply sinister one, and therefore feeling any sympathy for Humbert amounts to a kind of moral indictment of the reader. There's nothing even remotely comparable going on in Catcher in the Rye in general nor in Salinger's construction of Holden in particular -- not by a long shot.
posted by scody at 3:44 PM on August 2 [14 favorites]


Wait am I doing that thing where I confuse the new republic with the other very similarly named magazine on the opposite end of the political spectrum AGAIN?


Gaaaah.
posted by The Whelk at 3:46 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


It's not quite as opposite as many would pretend.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:49 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Also, Leopold Bloom is a dirty old man.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:50 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


oh wait they employed Andrew Sullivan okay I can hate them whew.
posted by The Whelk at 3:52 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


I mean if we all go "wow Holden is a conceited little shit, what a wonderful picture if a horrible teenager." and the Creator goes "you don't understand... that's not what I meant!" that doesn't invalidate our first response of "Wow, this is a very good picture of a very repulsive person who doesn't know how he comes off."

Mistimed Fandom cuts both ways.
posted by The Whelk at 3:55 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about Catcher In The Rye is that it overshadows Salinger's best work. It's amazing how many people LOVE Catcher but never go on to read Franny and Zooey, and the people that HATE it never get to realize how genius Roofbeams and Seymour are. It's like people think he's Harper Lee.
posted by milarepa at 3:57 PM on August 2 [12 favorites]


There's nothing even remotely comparable going on in Catcher in the Rye in general nor in Salinger's construction of Holden in particular -- not by a long shot.

Both Humbert Humbert and Holden Caulfield are famous (I mean, ludicrously, hilariously, oh-my-god-could-you-really-not-think-of-fresher-example-than-that famous) as examples of the unreliable narrator. That is the point I was comparing them on. I'm not saying that Caulfield is a budding pedophile, I'm saying that getting a "feeling" that Caulfield is "not as smart as he thinks he is" is just as stupid as getting irritated with Humbert Humbert's moral blindness. That's the whole fucking point of the character. And yes, Salinger was entirely aware of this aspect of Caulfield.

I don't know what's more embarrassing, really, the original review or the New Republic patting itself on the back for having published it in the first place. And I don't even particularly like the damn book.
posted by yoink at 4:04 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


Based on the rest of Salinger's work, it is literally incomprehensible to me that Salinger didn't have a very poor view of Holden as a person. The criticism that Holden isn't as sensitive and perceptive as Salinger thought?? It's crazy talk.

I totally understand really disliking the book, and I think it's unfair to foist it on the general population when it's so centered on the lives of young upper-middle class white men, and the high school curriculum is way overbalanced toward that sort of thing. But the criticisms of CATR generally go way overboard. As noted above, Salinger's other stuff is brilliant, and CATR really should be considered to be a breezy, funny, lesser work.
posted by skewed at 4:05 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


but would the twee holocaust that is Wes Anderson be possible at all without FRANNY and ZOEY?

I kind of liked F&Z...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:10 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


'Overrated' is a bit of a tricky word, here, I think. It's a good book. It does everything a good book should. It's well-constructed, and a lot of people have found great meaning in it.

Personally, I came to it when I was, what, thirty? I didn't think it was the best of that type of novel I'd ever read, but I could see why someone else might completely disagree with that view. In particular, I thought it was one of those books which if you read at *exactly* the right age, you would see as monumental and life-changing, but if you weren't that age, then perhaps not.

Maybe 'overrated' here means that one didn't read it at the right receptive age. Certainly, I didn't. But there's nothing wrong with the book itself, despite my lack of enthusiasm. There is not fault with the book. Is there a fault with the reader, then? Perhaps not even that. Maybe it's just a matter of timing.

*shrugs*
posted by Capt. Renault at 4:11 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


I should probably get around to re-reading Catcher at some point. I hated, hated, hated it when i read it in twelfth grade but that probably had more to do with my searing dislike of rich kids than any literary qualities the book had.
posted by octothorpe at 4:15 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


> i'm not a fan of Salinger's other stuff either

I thought some of the short stories were memorably good. Or anyway, I remembered them. Wouldn't be the first time a big name writer's short stories were better than the big flashy novels.H*mingw*y

> this was the book we got in High School to introduce the concept of unreliable narrator for christsakes

First one I encountered was As I Lay Dying, which is made a bit more challenging by being narrated by several unreliable characters none of whom makes the least bit of everyday sense. It was a baptism of my mother is a fish.
posted by jfuller at 4:18 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I read Catcher as an adult -- it's not a school-curriculum book in the UK the way it is in the US, and I would say also not as much of a cultural touchstone -- and found it very hard to engage with. Holden's just annoying. Maybe there's more of a cultural barrier for non-US readers; are the norms that Holden is rebelling against particularly American?

But I will try Franny and Zooey now.

It's irritating that the "ha-ha-we-were-right" New Republic piece includes only a small excerpt of their original review. Would it have killed them to link to it -- given that it's right there on their own website, just a short Google away?

Also, having read the original review: the elision in the excerpt seems somewhat editorial in support of their thesis.
In any case he is so completely self-centered that the other characters who wander through the book—with the notable exception of his sister Phoebe—have nothing like his authenticity. [The Catcher in the Rye is a brilliant tour-de-force, but] In a writer of Salinger's undeniable talent, one expects something more.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 4:22 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


... I think it's unfair to foist it on the general population when it's so centered on the lives of young upper-middle class white men....

I really don't think it's smart to argue that people shouldn't have to read about experiences that are unlike their own. That's going to cut against you far more often than it's going to cut for you.
posted by IAmUnaware at 4:40 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


CATR really should be considered to be a breezy, funny, lesser work.

Breezy and funny? When the protagonist spends most of the story traumatised by the death of his younger brother? When he tells the reader he feels like committing suicide? Or wishing to be blown up by the A-bomb?

Honestly, I don't know where criticisms of Holden as a 'vacuous self-absorbed teenager who thinks he's smarter than everybody else' come from. When I read the book, I see a teenager grieving for his dead brother, saddened by how gross the attitudes of his schoolmates are (towards girls like Jane, and towards boys like James Castle) and worried for his younger sister's future.

Holden is in fact fiercely moral and very intelligent, the picture of the idealistic teenager who gets more alienated as he realises the world isn't going to live up to his ideals (a bit like Hamlet in that sense). He's anti-status quo, but like any individual in that position, he has limited power to do anything about it, and his narration is saturated with his impotence.

A lot of misplaced criticism comes from adults who, looking back, think of his self-expression and emotiveness as just conceited teenage angst, and that they know better and always did, and I think that says something about their present cynicism and their experiences as adolescents.
posted by Quilford at 4:41 PM on August 2 [34 favorites]


Man, I loved Catcher in the Rye so much when I first read it, around age 15. It had such a different tone than anything else I'd read, and I was at the perfect age to empathize with Holden's teen angst. Read it a second time (when it was assigned in high school), and a third in my mid- 20s, at which point I still loved it but it didn't grab me quite the same way anymore. I enjoy most of Salinger's other works as well, but CITR is still my favorite, for introducing me to the style and the author. I don't really know what my point is but this thread is kind of bumming me out with Your Favorite Unreliable Narrator in a Classic American Novel Sucks so thought I'd at least chine in as someone who thinks it's a fantastic book.
posted by emd3737 at 4:46 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


The Catcher in the Rye i kitsch through and through. It tells 14-year-olds that they are right, and the more sentimentally angryl they are, the more right they are. Everything Nabokov has written is anti-kitsch. It tells everyone that they are wrong, including Nabokov.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:48 PM on August 2


The truth about Catcher in the Rye is that it's mostly annoying because it's the book people who don't read for pleasure think smart people like, so it has this pop culture presence other, better books don't have.

Apart from that it's a perfectly decent bildungsroman, still with the potential to speak to young people even now, though somewhat dated of course.

The cheerful philistinism of the New Republic on the other hand, well, what can you expect.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:49 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


I really don't think it's smart to argue that people shouldn't have to read about experiences that are unlike their own. That's going to cut against you far more often than it's going to cut for you.

You cut off the part of my statement that mentioned how full the high school curriculum already is with that sort of thing. I'm not arguing that people shouldn't read about experience unlike their own, and I think it's hard to read my statement as support for that idea.
posted by skewed at 4:53 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


Glad to know I was ahead of the times.

Don't worry, there have always been plenty of other people who sneered at this amazing little book. It seems like the book has really fallen out of favor these days, people love to hate on it. Maybe that will just make it mean even more to the kids who need it, but it makes me sad. I'm not saying you have to love the book, but if you treat it with smug contempt that says things about you I'd rather not know.

I really do not get the idea that Holden is repulsive, or that he thinks he's smarter than everybody else. He's a confused kid, full of self-loathing. I don't think Salinger detests him at all, but I do think Holden is supposed to be immature and flailing. He desperately yearns for sincerity and decency, and is disgusted by hypocrisy and smarm, but he is too young and inexperienced to know what kind of life he really wants to live. He is telling us the truth, as best he can, but he is a kid and he's naive. He's not smug about his "superiority," he is desperate to find some good in the world. His dream of becoming the catcher in the rye is childish, but it comes from a sweet place and it's literally the only thing he can think of that he wants to be. Think about that speech coming from a 16-year-old boy, facing adulthood. That's how good he is at heart, and how much of a kid he still is too.

I kind of detest the idea that the book is merely "mopey" or full of "first world problems" or whatever. It's raw and sad and hilarious and insightful and awesome, and if you just cannot see any of that then I'm sorry but I think you're about as sensitive as a goddam toilet seat.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:55 PM on August 2 [26 favorites]


I liked Catcher in the Rye. I have always found the current, massive dislike of it baffling.
posted by kyrademon at 4:56 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


A lot of misplaced criticism comes from adults who, looking back, think of his self-expression and emotiveness as just conceited teenage angst, and that they know better and always did, and I think that says something about their present cynicism and their experiences as adolescents.

I think there might be some truth to that. There's a definite cringe factor of recognition that reading Holden Caulfield in action can elicit, even if many of his observations about adulthood are spot on. But for me, anyway, he also had a lot of blindspots about himself that just made him hard to like, and it had little to do with being expressive and emotive so much as that special strain of teenage narcissism and contempt. That grated on me after a while, I have to admit, as much as I enjoyed the rhythm of the narrative.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:57 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


@mollycrabapple: Today is the last day to see my self portrait at Postmasters Gallery in TriBeCa and read all the tiny words http://t.co/LzSBLH19sa

Well I couldn't relate to Holden cause he seemed to come from an alien fucking planet compared to me but he wasn't as gleefully, rapacious, and fancifully immoral like Humbert- but also the book is assigned to you in high school and you're supposed to check off the box that says "unreliable narrator" and " but who is the real phony" on your English essay so you get a passing grade and when you're 15 stuff you are Forced To Read gets mixed up with Stuff You Should Read and that cross wire connection fucks shit up.

As an adult I see it as an oddly clear-eyed picture of a horrible teenager, cause teenagers are horrible, from a very specific cultural mileu.

Also my English teacher at the time implanted the idea that Holden is writing this to convince his doctors he's totally sane and failing cause he's kind of a smug jerk and that always stuck with me.
posted by The Whelk at 4:57 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Then again it could be that I just don't like Salinger, full stop. I tried F&Z and roof beams ..nothing.
posted by The Whelk at 5:00 PM on August 2


"I have always found the current, massive dislike of it baffling."

I read Steppenwolf and Catcher about the same time, when I was about 17, and I find them equially unpalatable. They appeal to the worst sort of me, special me, so me, me brilliant sort of attitude.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:03 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


(For the record: I loved Nine Stories. Some really heartbreaking and scary stuff.)
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:04 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Holden's bafflement about where ducks go in the winter is legitimately hilarious. If, after that conversation, you see him as anything but clueless (as well as after his ugly gay panic with his teacher), you've misread the book.

You don't have to enjoy the book, but it's really clearly the story of a miserable, hurting, occasionally nasty boy who we don't have to like, but should be able to feel some sympathy for. We all had our awful moment growing up. The book catches Holden at peak cluelessness, just when his immaturity is most at odds with the world. When I was younger, because I spent a lot of time at peak cluelessness, this made the book very hard to read. But, god, that discussion about the ducks makes me laugh.
posted by maxsparber at 5:05 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


I wish we could have these arguments with textual analysis. Kind of want to blast some quotes at the haters.
posted by Quilford at 5:07 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Oh man my clumsy paste and then going the store after the bar is holdenesque right now ( shuts phone off from reaching Mefi forever)
posted by The Whelk at 5:10 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Catcher in the Rye is good. Salinger's other stuff is, by and large, even better. I can't help but feel that the people who seem so invested in insisting otherwise are either bad at reading or are really interested in page views.

I mean, maybe it's not your cup of tea, but it's very hard to argue that it's not extremely good writing.
posted by 256 at 5:11 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


it's very hard to argue that it's not extremely good writing.

No, it's not. The writing is really bad.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:13 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


You don't have to like the book, but it's really clearly the story of a miserable, hurting, occasionally nasty boy who we don't have to like, but should be able to feel some sympathy for.

Indeed--there seems to be this weird feeling that we either have to see Caulfield as a faultless God or revile him as the very worst of all "phonies." He clearly is quite a bright kid. We're meant, I think, to see part of his pathos as being just how profoundly embarrassing the adult Caulfield will think the teenage Caulfield was. But we're also supposed to recognize and empathize with that embarrassment. And, of course, there are lots of things he's right about (just as any angsty, bright teen is right about lots of stuff--even if they're painfully, hilariously and tragically wrong about so much else). He's just a humanly-flawed kid trying, with mixed success, to make sense of some pretty fucked up stuff that's happened in his life. You can admire aspects of Caulfield without that meaning you think he's anybody's guru, and you can shake your head over some of his awful defensive smugness (the very thing the nice high school teacher tries to warn him against) without thinking that he's an irredeemable creep.
posted by yoink at 5:17 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


No, it's not. The writing is really bad.

Asserting =/= arguing.
posted by yoink at 5:18 PM on August 2 [23 favorites]


I do wonder how recently people who call Holden vacuous, self-absorbed, etc. have actually read the book. I don't see any legitimacy in calling him smug or whiny, either. Can anyone actually point to actual passages in which he is any of those things?
posted by Quilford at 5:19 PM on August 2


Asserting, sure.

Can someong point to passages in the novel that are extremely well written?
posted by Dumsnill at 5:21 PM on August 2


One thing completely missing from this FPP and all the comments to far is the link between the themes of Catcher In The Rye and the world of conspiracy theorists.

I am going to have to go look it up, but I swear I remember there being this odd thing where certain personality types have an unhealthy attachment to the character of Holden Caufield. His ideals about being a "protector of innocence" for some reason resonates in the psyche of certain people who possibly have an unhealthy attachment to the Just World Theory, and the tendency to rail against any and all injustice or 'perversions' that they encounter in their lives.

I will try and post links later when I can find the research/links I think I am remembering.

(admittedly, this could also just be my brain remembering a media trope that doesn't actually exist in real life)
posted by daq at 5:23 PM on August 2


Can someong point to passages in the novel that are extremely well written?

Sure. Try the scene with Phoebe and the carousel ride, at the end.
posted by Quilford at 5:24 PM on August 2


...or the beginning.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:25 PM on August 2


I didn't try to read Catcher in the Rye until I was in my early 30s. Maybe others are right in saying that I missed my moment in life to read it. I won't say that I hated it; maybe it got better after the page where I stopped reading it. Holden Caulfield may be the canonical example of the unreliable narrator, but for me he was an outstanding example of the kind of person that I can't stand. There are very few fictional characters that I've disliked more than Holden Caulfield.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:26 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


as well as after his ugly gay panic with his teacher

Hold up there, pardner! In the first place, the teacher is an adult, and Holden is a 16-year-old boy who idolizes him. In the second place, Holden falls asleep at the guy's home and awakens to find the guy petting him, and in the third place Holden is super creeped out but still tries to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and points out his good qualities. This isn't a homophobia thing. It's molestation/assault, and the guy betrayed Holden's trust horribly. The scene could have played out similarly if the teacher was a woman, and if you think about that it's kind of amazing for mid-20th century America. (OK, maybe Holden would have consented to sex with an adult, female teacher. But if she was more of a maternal figure, I can see him reacting in almost exactly the same way.)

I loved all of Salinger's work when I was a kid, but as I age I have a harder time with his non-Catcher work. A lot of it does seem kind of... precious? I don't know, but Catcher feels like a book straight from the heart and his other stuff seems a lot more strained and self-consciously clever to me. When people talk about Catcher not living up to his other work, it's really hard for me to understand.

Can someong point to passages in the novel that are extremely well written?

Is there much point? The style is funny and deliberately crude, it's supposed to read like a teenage boy wrote it. If you don't like the book and disagree with Holden's insights, there's no purple prose to distract you.

And yes, Mark David Chapman was a nut who became obsessed with the book, and John Lennon. Just because some pycho is hung up on two great things, that doesn't make them less great.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:27 PM on August 2 [14 favorites]


...or the beginning.

Well, I mean, yeah, the whole book's good. But Salinger really nails the real beauty and love in the older brother/younger sister relationship. Any passage with Phoebe is a stand-out, I reckon.
posted by Quilford at 5:28 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Can someong point to passages in the novel that are extremely well written?

You've made a claim that the writing is bad; you are the person who needs to provide evidence and analysis.
posted by kewb at 5:29 PM on August 2 [10 favorites]


Ok, I realize that my hatred of this novel, and the way it is written, is an idiosyncrasy. If you like it, that's fine of course, but for me it represents the worst of fiction.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:31 PM on August 2


daq - it's in the last link in the FPP (murderers, though, not conspiracy theorists). I'm not sure I'd want to play up that aspect in a post about CITR, for some reason it makes my skin crawl and gets into legitimizing woo / nutty theorist stuff. YMMV.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:31 PM on August 2


The Catcher in the Rye is a perfectly fine book, but it's the absolute worst thing to force high school students to read. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything more insulting to teenagers.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:00 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Joseph Conrad is fully awesome - I think I am remembering the Mel Gibson movie with Julia Roberts where he was a bit of a wacko conspiracy nut (so, you know, typecast) and he had a compulsion to buy Catcher In The Rye or something. But I swear that there was a secondary theory about how people who over identify with Holden have eccentric behaviors and are prominent in the conspiracy theory circles. I have odd hobbies.
posted by daq at 6:05 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Can someong point to passages in the novel that are extremely well written?

So okay, the thing that makes Salinger's stories worth reading is the way he writes dialogue. It's not that he writes sparklingly witty banter. It's that he nails the rhythm and style of all kinds of conversation — including incredibly dull conversations, or conversations where one person is a horrible bore or a flaming asshole and the other one that's just waiting for them to shut up, or etcetera. You learn a huge amount about his characters, and how they feel about each other, just from the way they make totally ordinary small talk with each other.

And that's sort of what makes Catcher work too, even in the bits that are straight-up narration. You get to see how Holden talks when he's being a cheerfully pretentious twit, and when he's in a happy and generous mood, and when he's feeling defensive, and when he's sulking over something stupid, and when he's genuinely hurt, etc etc etc. And it turns out that in some of those situations, how he talks is basically snotty and irritating — but that's kind of the point: that is how a teenager in his situation sounds when they're being defensive or sulky or pointlessly showing off or whatever. The writing is sometimes unattractive because the main character spends a lot of the book in the sort of mood that makes a person like him act in unattractive ways.

Basically it's a lovingly detailed and uncomfortably accurate portrait of a teenage boy's unhealthy defense mechanisms, as illustrated by his conversational tics and his tone of voice. Which might not be your idea of a good time — but it's still impressive that it works at all.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:29 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


Between this and the "Shakespeare Sucks" thread the other day, is this the beginning of some sort of second-wave hipsterdom where one proves how non-conformist and smart they are by tearing down a classic work? I eagerly await future posts about how terrible a movie "Citizen Kane' was and how Rembrandt couldn't paint for shit.
posted by The Gooch at 6:34 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


Wouldn't be the first time a big name writer's short stories were better than the big flashy novels.H*mingw*y

Wait, that's not how you spell David Foster Wallace.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:37 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


Thank you, n. It is not my idea of a god time, but at least I can understand why some might like it.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:40 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Can someong point to passages in the novel that are extremely well written?

Hey, you know what would be cool? If people who aren't willing to reconsider their assertions or opinions stop demanding evidence that they categorically won't be satisfied with, because what the fuck is the point? It's tediously disingenuous and a waste of time.
posted by liketitanic at 7:00 PM on August 2 [10 favorites]


I read The Catcher in the Rye in one sitting in my school library when I was 17. It was completely gripping but when it was over I hated it. The bit that sat especially badly with me was the scene with Me. Antolini, the English teacher who offers him a place to stay. I didn't see him as a potential molester but as a slightly sad, older man who seemed to care for his student. Holden Caulfield's homophobic reaction struck me as morally ugly and the way he spoke about "flits" made me angry. I suppose it wasn't fair to judge a 1951 novel from the point of view of 1998 teenager who had close gay friends and family, but my emotional reaction was to hate it and it didn't appeal strongly enough to my personal sense of aesthetics to overcome that feeling of repulsion it evoked in me.

Of course, being young I decided that the book was simply terrible and was famous for being famous, rather than consider that maybe millions of fans weren't all wrong. In recent years people whose opinions on books I respect greatly, e.g. Tom Roberge of Three Percent and Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker as well as people on MetaFilter, have given me a new perspective on the novel. I'm still not sure if I'll pick it up again given that there are lots of books I want to reread that I enjoyed the first time around, as well as an infinite amount of good books I haven't read yet. That said, it's always nice to reevaluate long-held beliefs, so I might just sit down in a library and read it again.
posted by Kattullus at 7:03 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Between this and the "Shakespeare Sucks" thread the other day, is this the beginning of some sort of second-wave hipsterdom where one proves how non-conformist and smart they are by tearing down a classic work? I eagerly await future posts about how terrible a movie "Citizen Kane' was and how Rembrandt couldn't paint for shit.

I hated Catcher before it was cool.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:06 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


In particular, I thought it was one of those books which if you read at *exactly* the right age, you would see as monumental and life-changing, but if you weren't that age, then perhaps not.

Is the time when we get to make fun of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead"? Cause that's a bottomless well . . .
posted by jeremias at 7:09 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


The bit that sat especially badly with me was the scene with Mr. Antolini, the English teacher who offers him a place to stay. I didn't see him as a potential molester but as a slightly sad, older man who seemed to care for his student. Holden Caulfield's homophobic reaction struck me as morally ugly and the way he spoke about "flits" made me angry. I suppose it wasn't fair to judge a 1951 novel from the point of view of 1998 teenager who had close gay friends and family

I am gay and I totally did see Mr. Antolini as a potential molester, and I didn't see Holden's response as homophobic or morally ugly at all. He doesn't even use any sexuality-specific language. Have you read Ursula Hitler's comment above? You might also try reading the text again.
posted by Quilford at 7:15 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


I've tried reading it again, and it sucks more than I remembered. Saying so makes me a Shakespeare hating philistine, apparently.

(Fuck I sound like an older Holden.)
posted by Dumsnill at 7:16 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I thought it was unclear what Antolini was up to. He was, iirc, kind of rubbing Caulfield's crewcut while he slept. That could have been erotic to him, or he could have been (half-drunk, I think) giving expression to a protective or parental impulse. Even if that's so, he should not have been doing it.
posted by thelonius at 7:23 PM on August 2


I think the text is less ambiguous. (I have it in front of me... one of the benefits of studying the novel in school.)
posted by Quilford at 7:28 PM on August 2


The Catcher in the Rye is a perfectly fine book, but it's the absolute worst thing to force high school students to read. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything more insulting to teenagers.

I first read it as a teenager. My mind was blown, because finally, someone wrote a book that sounded like I felt.

My second reaction was that I was as pathetic and impotent as Holden and... was sort of hard to square with my worldview at the time.

Anyway, I can't think of too many books I read at that age that got me to thinking pretty hard about things - but that was one. Granted, I was 15. It's not like they were deep, groundbreaking, thoughts. But, you know... I felt like I was getting smarter. So, I've always had an affection for the book.

Although, re-reading it is sorta like reading your old diary. Sometimes it is best to have forgotten what you were like once upon a time.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:37 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Is the time when we get to make fun of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead"? Cause that's a bottomless well . . .

Oooh, I agree. I have seriously thought about writing a chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Fountainhead for years. I think it has some good points about being a weirdo artist when nobody else is into your sort of thing (yes, really, please don't hurt me), but also it's very LOL, especially any time Dominique, Queen Masochist of the Western Hemisphere, is on screen making amazingly stoopid life decisions. Plus I think Howard isn't the perfect Objectivist he's supposed to be either, interestingly enough.

However, I don't know if it's worth risking my life/the sheer amount of crap I would get for mentioning the book in the first place. Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:39 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I read The Catcher in the Rye three times, each a few years apart. The first time, I didn't see what the fuss was about. The second time, I was the right age and it was the right moment, and I totally got it. The third time, I enjoyed it, but spent most of the time thinking "ohhhh, Holden" and shaking my head.

That's my favorite kind of book (or movie, or TV show): the kind that's just as good when you revisit it after a few years, but feels completely different.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:04 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


That first link: Wow, way to massively miss the point. I read this voluntarily as a teenager and while I don't understand any claims of it being earth-shattering, I found Holden pretty good company during his adolescent struggle to give up the illusion of a just world. I remember feeling betrayed when my favourite English teacher decried the novel as over-rated and old-hat, (probably in 1981 or so?) thinking "the human condition hasn't changed that much since 1951 has it"? And it still hasn't.
posted by Coaticass at 8:09 PM on August 2


Jenfullmoon,

I would love to read that. I get the feeling that a lot of people like to hate the Fountainhead (and Atlas Shrugged) because they are familiar with their abhorrent politics, or because they've read Roark's speech or Galt's speech... but they aren't familiar with the little details that make them so deliciously derpy.

In the Fountainhead, Ayn Rand builds a world in which a stuffy newspaper columnist wields some sort of immense power over society, which he intends to use for PURE EVIL. There's a scene where he capers about on the street and laughs maniacally at the pure evilness of his existence and how much he's going to hurt all the innocents of the world... and instead of being treated as a delusional fool by the author, she plays it straight. Ellsworth Toohey is serious business, yo. It's like being asked to believe that Maureen Dowd holds the world in the palm of her hand, and someone must stop her before she crushes us all.

Or the fact that both her female protagonists -- Dominique and Dagny -- are the biggest wish-fulfillment Mary Sues in literary history. Each one gets to have sex with three male leads, and these male leads are so smitten with the one perfect woman in the universe that they literally cannot conceive of making love to anyone else. We're supposed to believe that Francisco d'Anconia "never touched a single one of those women," and will never touch a woman again, because it's Dagny or nothing. Dagny. Dagny. Dagny.

And then there's her rogue's gallery of weird, oddly-named little villains. Gus Webb. Ike the Genius. Homer Slottern. Eve and Mitchell Layton. Chick Morrison. Wesley Mouch. Tinky Holloway. Mr. Thompson. Fred Kinnan. Ivy Starnes... Rand has this very Caulfield-like tendency to glance at a sort of person, see them for five seconds, and then write them off as "phonies" who live worthless non-lives. She doesn't like them, so they are garbage. It's some true sociopathic hilarity.
posted by ELF Radio at 8:11 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


I read CiTR in high school and thought it was ok, but I really loved Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters.

I also loved Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe and this thread is reminding me of how all the grown ups in my life rolled their eyes and said it's only because your 17, you'll grow out of it.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:11 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how I managed to avoid Catcher in the Rye for so long, but I think you guys have convinced me to finally read it so I can figure out what really happened in the scene with the teacher.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:21 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Here's a conversation I just had with my SO upon seeing this post:

Me: You liked Catcher in the Rye, right?
Her: Yeah. [I frown]. Oh yeah, you hated Holden, right?
Me: Yeah.
Her: [laughing] Yeah, of course you did, because he's you.


I guess what I'm saying is that being forced to read that book in high school, just at the age where I was past feeling at all like the character, he was obnoxiously gripey and juvenile in a way that hit a little embarrassingly close to home.

Maybe that's a sign of the book's quality, but having that experience at that age, and then seeing a lot of friends actually like and positively identify with the character just completely ruined it for me.
posted by graphnerd at 8:59 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


The only thing wrong with Catcher in the Rye is that it's not Franny & Zooey.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:05 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I am going to have to go look it up, but I swear I remember there being this odd thing where certain personality types have an unhealthy attachment to the character of Holden Caufield. His ideals about being a "protector of innocence" for some reason resonates in the psyche of certain people who possibly have an unhealthy attachment to the Just World Theory, and the tendency to rail against any and all injustice or 'perversions' that they encounter in their lives.

This is the main reason i hate it, honestly. It's perfectly tailored, intentionally or not, to jack off a very specific type of crappy person right when they're at the age when they're most receptive to it.

People who really like "get it, man" do not need to be reading it. And it kinda disgusts me that it's like STANDARD ASSIGNED READING #3 in basically all public schools because it reaches way too many assholes.

I don't hate it because i think it sucks, i hate it because i think it's vaguely insufferable and it gives boners to the wrong type of person.

Basically, it's shitty for the same reason fountainhead is.
posted by emptythought at 9:29 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Ayn Rand builds a world in which a stuffy newspaper columnist wields some sort of immense power over society, which he intends to use for PURE EVIL.

I think it's hilarious that she sets up Gail Wynand, the big time newspaper magnate, as the "bad guy" and then really it's the creepy weaselly newspaper columnist. And ELLSWORTH TOOHEY is the worst name in her books ever. (Also, naming a guy Gail?!) Big bad TOOHEY. Good god.

I haven't read Atlas Shrugged because I hear it's a thousand pages long and seven hundred of them are speech so I can't speak to that one, but:

these male leads are so smitten with the one perfect woman in the universe that they literally cannot conceive of making love to anyone else.


I actually kinda buy it in Howard's case because the guy literally doesn't have any interest in anything in life other than designing buildings, except for the occasional person that he actually likes. I don't get why he likes her, mind you, but very few people are on his radar at all for him to even notice them. Also, when is he even meeting other chicks? He's in a man's world there and he doesn't hang out at bars.

I find it horrifying that Ayn Rand said Dominique was her on a bad day. Good god. Seriously, I just want to bitchslap her for dumbjerkosity for most of the book. You're just like, "Really, Dominique? Really?" I want to send Sassy Gay Friend after her to say, "Look at your life. Look at your choices."

"it gives boners to the wrong type of person."

Hahahahahahah, yeah.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:53 PM on August 2


Soooooo, my memories of "Catcher in the Rye" came about when I dropped out of AP English in my senior year in high school (in the southeastern suburbs of Seattle), and I took a fiction course that seemed to have more variety in it rather than Dostoevsky, Dostoevsky, and more Dostoevsky.

We read, memorably, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (which both really impressed me) and "Catcher." I will never forget how the teacher brought the first book out for the first time, his eyes in his tweedy, bearded face glowing with excitement. "This is really going to change your lives!" he exclaimed to all of us.

It better be really good, I remember thinking, though it will probably be disappointing. After all, how could anything measure up to the gut-punch that was "Caged Bird" and "Malcolm"? But I figured I should read it and see what all the fuss was about.

It was a quick read. The class went into paroxysms of laughter when Holden met the two hick girls from Seattle and he seemed to barely have any concept of the place. I thought the carousel scene with Phoebe at the end was exceptionally beautiful and almost redeemed the meandering blah-ness of the book. I didn't have any issues with Holden other than that he seemed not that interesting to me and I couldn't relate to him on any level.

The ironic thing is, at the time, my mother had just passed away from cancer, but Holden's struggles with grief were completely unmemorable and uninteresting to me. I felt, in comparison, more grounded, responsible and adult, and he was some dumb rich kid from the East Coast with whom I had nothing in common-- he might as well have beamed down from some other planet. I related more to young Maya Angelou and Malcolm X, weirdly enough. I vividly remember those books 20+ years later, but I barely remember anything about "Catcher."
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:02 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Not having a copy of the book immediately handy, I went online and read some stuff about the Mr. Antolini section. I hadn't realized there was so much disagreement about whether the character was making a pass at Holden, and I suspect the scene is more ambiguous than I recalled. I am pretty sure, however, that it is a really creepy turn of events and Holden handles it about as well as any 16-year-old boy in 1951 could be expected to. That always struck me, that as totally freaked out as Holden was, he wasn't ready to hate the guy for what happened.

I think when people hate the book, all too often it comes down to them not relating to Holden (or hating some aspect of themselves they see in him) and they see other people adoring the book and they don't get it and they want it to GO AWAY.

It kind of reminds me of those "Magic Eye" 3D things, in the 1990s. Remember those? There's something wrong with my eyes, I simply cannot see the pictures in those things and they always looked like ugly garbage to me. People would ooh and aah about the amazing pictures they were seeing, and I felt like they were just making it all up or trying to taunt me or something. There was obviously nothing there, so why were they being so stupid?

Eventually I grew up and accepted that just because I personally couldn't see it, that didn't mean there was nothing there.

So, you couldn't relate to Holden Caulfield. Now we know. The book has had a transformative effect on generations of people. (And it's not the fucking Fountainhead, because it is the exact opposite of evil.) It was beautiful and touching and profound for them. Hating on it doesn't make them love it any less, and I don't think it does the haters much good either.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:44 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


When I was a teenager, I read Catcher in the Rye and I really liked it.
posted by zardoz at 11:48 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


The Gooch: "Between this and the "Shakespeare Sucks" thread the other day, is this the beginning of some sort of second-wave hipsterdom where one proves how non-conformist and smart they are by tearing down a classic work? I eagerly await future posts about how terrible a movie "Citizen Kane' was and how Rembrandt couldn't paint for shit."

I love Shakespeare.

Some people see reading of The Catcher in the Rye as a transformative moment in their lives. That's just fine. Others, like me, found it to be a dull slog with a dislikable protagonist. That doesn't make us terrible people. Just because a book is considered to be a literary classic doesn't mean that it is above reproach. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about it.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:40 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


The Catcher in the Rye is a perfectly fine book, but it's the absolute worst thing to force high school students to read. You'd be hard-pressed to find anything more insulting to teenagers.

No, not at all. Sure, lots of non-readers will hate it for being forced to read it in class, while all the readers are always annoyed at having to be forced to read books they're not interested in, but really, for a lot of teenagers it is a very relatable book, slightly subversive still.

The problem comes when it's still your favourite novel after twentyfive or so. It's a young person's book, possibly a young men's book.

It kind of reminds me of those "Magic Eye" 3D things, in the 1990s.

It's a sailboat.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:46 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


I am in love with the Glass family, and especially in my 20s I read those books over and over and over. I always disliked Catcher in the Rye and I have always assumed that was some sort of personal failing of mine. I had no idea there was a whole world of people out there complaining about it these days.

Well then. Aren't I ahead of the times.
posted by gerstle at 3:01 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


I remember being really badly depressed in my late twenties and everything going wrong. (Marriage, work, money, friends, the economy)
It was just like Holden Caulfield said your walking down a pavement you get to the end of a join on the pavement and you feel down and then you'd get to the next join and you'd feel yourself going down again. The process repeating over and over again.
Catcher in the Rye documents a teenagers descent into severe depression and electric convulsive shock therapy.
So, some Metafilter readers think Holden Caufield is smarmy?? Obviously this book demands to much empathy from some of the Metafilter readership. I bet these readers didn't like Prozac Nation. (Another book on the experience of depression).
posted by Narrative_Historian at 3:36 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


It's not that you're not allowed to dislike the book. But I lose my patience in a hurry with people who have a smug, superior disdain for it, and there are a lot of them out there. If you tell me, for instance, that it's a book for entitled young white men, we're going to have a problem. What about the generations of women and girls, and non-white, non-young, not-rich people who have adored the book? Have we somehow been duped?

I think we have arrived at a moment where various large, loud online cultures are primed to hate everything about this book on sight. Some old book about a deeply unhappy, young, white male from a prosperous family is freaking kryptonite to a gamer troll, or a site like Buzzfeed... or a good portion of Metafilter, I suppose. Each group has their own superficially different reasons to hate it for existing at all, but the upshot is that no matter how good the book is we're going to hear a lot of SHUT UP EMO KID! MANFEELS! FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS! People have fat sacks full of crappy, dismissive little memes all ready to fling, and loving to hate this book is like the one thing that Daniel Tosh and that "Cancel Colbert" lady could probably agree on.

I have spent way too much of my weekend defending this book. I know I'm not changing anybody's mind, but I sure wish I could. It's a groundbreaking, unique and deeply-felt work. Of course you don't have to like Catcher in the Rye, but if you think you are better than this book, you almost certainly are not.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:58 AM on August 3 [13 favorites]


It is probably worth making teenagers read it so they can realize that teenagers can be kind of insufferable, even when they are in the right.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:02 AM on August 3


Just because a book is considered to be a literary classic doesn't mean that it is above reproach.

I've disliked almost every literary classic I've ever read. I can probably count on one or two hands the number of them I liked or at least didn't hate. I suppose that means there's something wrong with me for not liking depressing books (it was very rare that we got to read anything that didn't end in most or all of the cast being killed), but there it is.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:02 AM on August 3


"Life is Elsewhere" by Milan Kundera is a much better novel about the young male lyrical/poetic (everyone but me is stupid and phoney) part of our existence. Unlike Catcher and Steppenwolf it does not celebrate the idiocy of narcicisstic youth, it doesn't want the reader to join the hero in feeling like a misunderstood genius. It rightly mocks him. Because we have all been there, and we deserve to be mocked. And the sooner the better.
posted by Dumsnill at 8:22 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


> Nabokov's whole point is that Humbert is a duplicitous creep -- i.e., that he is not only just an unreliable narrator, but a deeply sinister one, and therefore feeling any sympathy for Humbert amounts to a kind of moral indictment of the reader.

I don't think Nabokov's quite that simple. Granted, Nabokov liked to needle his adoring public, especially the American public, but I'm not convinced that he is as judgmental as you suggest, either of the reader or of the characters. Lolita is, as much as anything else, a love story. A highly disquieting love story told by a man very much in the worst throes of a very wrong obsession, but a love story nonetheless. I see parallels to The Blue Angel, but upped a few notches.

I suppose that means there's something wrong with me for not liking depressing books


No no, not at all, and this reflects a common and to my mind right minded sentiment among book club members I know who get tired of being assigned the latest Jody Picoult or Angela's Ashes or whatever is the Serious Must Read of the season. Remember that Greek tragedy was put on once a year, presumably because they knew it was so draining. Or worse, seen too often, too brutalizing. (Sensibly, said Greeks required that the tragedies be followed by comedies, to clear the mental palate so to speak.)

Me, I like funny books. Never did like Salinger. (Mostly liked Nabokov for the jokes, but as I age I find him too self-consciously "Writing".)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:40 AM on August 3 [4 favorites]


I tried to struggle through it when I was 17. It wasn't assigned to me, but I'd heard it was a book that sensitive, iconoclastic teenagers would identify with. Unlike the Whelk, no one ever told me that Holden Caulfield was an unreliable narrator; everything I heard about it said I would see myself in him, and it would probably change my life. I was a teenage anarchist who loved the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, dropped out of high school primarily because I chafed at the lack of freedom, and was slowly sinking into a deep depression, so I can't imagine being in a more perfect place to love CITR.

I ended up not even finishing it, I hated Holden Caulfield so much. Maybe I saw too much of myself in him, or maybe I just hated the artless, uncreative way he used the word "phony" over and over again. Or the way he cared more about people's lack of authenticity than about oppression or inequality or war. (Like, you're living under the shadow of the atom bomb, and your big concern is that everyone around you isn't living their most authentic selves all the time?) Or the way he got mired in "everything sucks" and seemed never to even think about possible solutions to the problems he saw. More than anything, I felt insulted by all the adults who told me that this whiny asshole would "speak to me," even spoke for me. Ishmael changed my life. Cat's Cradle changed my life. Catcher in the Rye just pissed me off.

I am similarly insulted by the New Republic's suggestion that kids these days don't relate to Holden Caulfield because they're a bunch of conformist goody-two-shoes who don't care about anything but getting 5's on their AP tests. Just because your average teenager of the 1950s got all the way to "oh my God the world isn't everything they told me it would be" and stopped there doesn't mean that kids today can't relate to it because they think the world is awesome. I think a lot of them have just moved past that to, "Okay, what can I do to fix these problems?" That's where I was at. Maybe if I'd read CITR at 12 or 13, it would've caught me at the right place, but by 17 I was already trying to figure out how to found a commune.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 9:07 AM on August 3 [4 favorites]


I don't think Nabokov's quite that simple. Granted, Nabokov liked to needle his adoring public, especially the American public, but I'm not convinced that he is as judgmental as you suggest, either of the reader or of the characters. Lolita is, as much as anything else, a love story. A highly disquieting love story told by a man very much in the worst throes of a very wrong obsession, but a love story nonetheless. I see parallels to The Blue Angel, but upped a few notches.

You're right that Nabokov is not that simple but in no way is it a love story or intended to be. Ask a woman that's read that book if it even approaches a love story.

No, the solution to the book's riddle is that it pits form against content. To enjoy the beautiful form and sublime writing you have to ignore it's about child rape. To enjoy the story you have to convince yourself there's love in it, and it's not about a murderous, raping, kidnapping, narcissistic psychopath.

It's also a personal test by Nabokov. Is his writing good enough to make the literary establishment hail a book about child rape and force them to choose a side? It's a literary zugzwang for academic literary criticism.
posted by milarepa at 9:11 AM on August 3 [4 favorites]


I liked Catcher in the Rye. I have always found the current, massive dislike of it baffling.

If you buy into the notion that Catcher was seminal toward the eruption of the counterculture in the 60s, giving voice as it did to viscerally frustrated youth in a manner that had never really happened before (certainly not since Rimbaud and Huck Finn) -- then the current efforts at cultural dismissal can easily be seen as coming from a place of conservative revisionism. In other words, how better to erase the meaning of what really happened in the 60s than to erase the meaning of the stuff that inspired it?

Or something like that, that I remember hearing some guy saying on the radio.

So, in summary, Holden Caufield, like many an adolescent, is an insufferable little prick who overrates himself. Do we just tell him to shut up and do his chores, he'll grow out of it ... or do we stoop to actually engage with him, maybe evolve a better world for our troubles?
posted by philip-random at 9:40 AM on August 3 [5 favorites]


Ask a woman that's read that book if it even approaches a love story.

So tired of this rhetoric. It's just a way of conjuring an imaginary army behind your individual opinion, which is the only one you really have a right to. There are 3 and a half billion women in the world! We're not a monolith or a mystery. It's entirely possible for IndigoJones to have already spoken to a hundred women who would all describe Lolita as a love story. I'm a woman and a huge fan of Lolita, and while I don't think I would have chosen those words (in spite of the blurb on both editions in my library somewhat notoriously referring to it as "the only convincing love story of our century"), I also think there's nothing at all inherently good or noble about love and that love can inspire a "murderous, raping, kidnapping, narcissistic psychopath" just as easily as it can anyone else. If you see Lolita as a riddle to be solved, a mere moral booby trap; if you think you must hew to the darkest path at all times or else risk falling into a hole and ignoring child rape, you're missing out on the real beauty and complexity of the novel, in my opinion.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:46 AM on August 3 [8 favorites]


The Catcher in the Rye is a perfectly fine book, but it's the absolute worst thing to force high school students to read.

When I was a teenager, I read Catcher in the Rye and I really liked it.


I remembering being more relieved than enamored. I mean, here was a book FINALLY that began to speak in a voice that I could relate to ... as opposed to all the overly dry, overly important texts that were getting foisted on me as assigned reading. But given my tastes in those days, unless there was a psycho killer sniping at people from rooftops or some world class villain seeking to corner the market on heroin, I was only going to get so enthused.

The exception to this would be Catch-22 which utterly compelled me at age fourteen. I guess, because it was A. hilariously funny, B. not afraid of a little sex, C. not afraid to condemn pretty much the entire functionality the "modern" world.
posted by philip-random at 9:50 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


Of course you don't have to like Catcher in the Rye, but if you think you are better than this book, you almost certainly are not.

This is such an odd thing to say. I think it's an overrated book, so I must be worse than the book? (What does that even mean?)
posted by Dumsnill at 9:51 AM on August 3


You're right that Nabokov is not that simple but in no way is it a love story or intended to be. Ask a woman that's read that book if it even approaches a love story.

Actually, I first heard this from a woman and have heard it confirmed by others (though not a hundred). Possibly a generational thing is at work? I don't know how old you are. Most of my book chat is with the middle aged and older.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:55 AM on August 3


Ok ok, my woman statement was out of bounds and frankly an after thought. The rest I stand behind.
posted by milarepa at 10:06 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Carry on standing. It's what keeps lit crit interesting.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:07 AM on August 3


If you buy into the notion that Catcher was seminal toward the eruption of the counterculture in the 60s, giving voice as it did to viscerally frustrated youth in a manner that had never really happened before (certainly not since Rimbaud and Huck Finn) -- then the current efforts at cultural dismissal can easily be seen as coming from a place of conservative revisionism. In other words, how better to erase the meaning of what really happened in the 60s than to erase the meaning of the stuff that inspired it?

Or it could be because we live in a world where the counterculture was absorbed into mainstream culture. A teenager growing up today can hear Holden Caulfield's voice coming out of every alt-rock radio station, every "teen superhero" TV show, every indie-ish movie. By the time you hit high school, either you've completely avoided pop culture or you've been hearing this stuff for years. And that is in large part because of Catcher in the Rye. It was the first to explore this teenage alienation. But that was 60 years ago. Alienated teens are no longer voiceless; they've had a rather large cottage industry catering directly to them since at least the '70s.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 12:39 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]


I think it's an overrated book, so I must be worse than the book? (What does that even mean?)

As I said, I was addressing people who regard the book with smug, superior disdain.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:21 PM on August 3


If you buy into the notion that Catcher was seminal toward the eruption of the counterculture in the 60s, giving voice as it did to viscerally frustrated youth in a manner that had never really happened before (certainly not since Rimbaud and Huck Finn) -- then the current efforts at cultural dismissal can easily be seen as coming from a place of conservative revisionism. In other words, how better to erase the meaning of what really happened in the 60s than to erase the meaning of the stuff that inspired it?

At the risk of being guilty of "conservative revisionism", I think Holden made a lot of salient points about adulthood, but was also guilty of absolute certainty in his righteousness and position to judge, which is what gets adults into the same behavioral patterns Holden abhors in the first place. Maybe that was Salinger's entire point - that Holden is doomed to be the kind of grown-up he so despises because he lacks the ability to truly engage with himself - but it didn't make the book any more enjoyable to read for it. I found it maddening, actually, especially when I thought of all the guys my age at the time who were reading it and identified so much with him. I don't think there's anything particularly counter-culture about blithely walking into the same camp as your own worst enemy while casting aspersions at them at the same time.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:40 PM on August 3 [4 favorites]


On the other hand, to be totally fair, I loathed Chasing Amy for a lot of the same reasons. The viewer can see early on in the film that the protag's ridiculous jealousy about Amy's prior sexual history is going to stupidly, needlessly, doom their relationship. A lot of people loved the movie for that; I just kept yelling at the screen.

Holden's hard to like. I'm not saying the book is bad, or over-rated, but this was not a character I warmed up to, and it made me retreat from the story as a whole, as much as I loved the voice Salinger gave him.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:47 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


> Holden Caulfield may be the canonical example of the unreliable narrator, but for me he was
> an outstanding example of the kind of person that I can't stand.

I felt the same way at first reading. But I'm much readier to cut him some slack now, having met him in real life so many times since then.
posted by jfuller at 1:59 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


I loved this book when I was a teenager and even knowing what I know now I would not turn down the experience of reading this when I was 15 or so.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:04 PM on August 3


I re-read it a couple of years ago, and my mileage varied: I thought it held up pretty well, and it was very interesting reading it in middle-age, when I was not prone to identify with Holden.

I really was, for this book, a pretty naive reader as a teenager. A lot of the unreliable narrator stuff went right over my head then, like it hadn't occurred to me to wonder if the Hollywood screenwriter brother was even real.
posted by thelonius at 4:30 PM on August 3


Holden Caulfield may be the canonical example of the unreliable narrator

I mean it's not Remains of the Day.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 PM on August 3


I read Catcher (and then everything else I could lay my hands on by Salinger) during my mid teens. I'm a little nervous to go back and read again, because that was a pretty grim time for me, and I'm not sure I want my older eyes to spoil the slightly faded glamour of the Glass family. I totally over identified with Holden as well as the all the Glass kids (and their friends! Actually, with almost every element of these stories!). And I am an embarrassingly naive reader, I took everything at face value (just like Narnia, I'm sorry to say).
posted by thylacinthine at 10:37 PM on August 3


Finally plowed my way through Catcher a couple of months ago. Previous attempts always bogged down about a quarter way into the book. I finally realized why: because I've always had Holden Caulfield's view of the cultural world around me as phony, hollow, and cheap. The book simply failed to make an impression on me because I was already there, dude.
posted by telstar at 2:43 AM on August 4


> I've always had Holden Caulfield's view of the cultural world around me as phony, hollow, and cheap.

I would love to hear what he would say about facebook.
posted by jfuller at 4:47 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


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