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Catcher in the Rye just turned 50
January 29, 2001 12:53 AM   Subscribe

Catcher in the Rye just turned 50 and J.D. Salinger is staying true to form by doing nothing to mark the occasion. Even his publishing company is saying very little about the anniversary. I don't think it's right to stay silent about perhaps the greatest American novel of all-time. I've loved this book ever since I first read it. Hail to Holden Caufield, and Kudos to Salinger for writing the book.
posted by Bag Man (27 comments total)

 
I'll lay down my vote for "the greatest American novel of all time". I can't find the words to explain what that book means to me.
posted by pnevares at 1:02 AM on January 29, 2001


If he celebrated the anniversary, he would become a goddamned phony, and we don't want that do we?
posted by mathowie at 1:05 AM on January 29, 2001


...and AOL is the one who publishes CitR and we don't want that, do we?

posted by gluechunk at 1:37 AM on January 29, 2001


I'm going to have to play cynic. As much as I remember liking the novel when I read it at age 13, in the intervening 17 years it's become clear to me that many people publicly claim to like it because a) it's been pre-approved as a "great" book and b) it's the last real fiction they've ever read.

[Not you, of course, who are reading this but other people, elsewhere.]
posted by Mo Nickels at 3:39 AM on January 29, 2001


A wonderful book when first published. An interesting book at present. But it has dated somewhat, and so too have I.
posted by Postroad at 3:59 AM on January 29, 2001


I love "Catcher in the Rye," and it's one of a handful of books I find myself rereading every few years. Each time, it's like reading it for the first time.

But my wife hates it. Which is strange, because usually we like the same books. I should note here that she hasn't read the book from cover-to-cover since she was a teenager. Recently, I suggested that her memory of the book might be wrong and that she should try reading it again. She did try, but she wasn't able to make it through to the end. We've discussed her feelings (and mine) for hours, and I've tried to get her to explain her distaste.

She feels that Holden is too judgmental. He mocks almost everybody and feels superior to almost everybody. To her, this makes him unattractive. I would agree that if you don't like Holden, you probably won't like the book. In fact, my wife said Holden reminded her of certain boys she went to school with, boys who made her feel bad.

She also admitted to having a limited tolerance to teenage angst.

Here's my question: is there a gender-split on reaction to this book? I know I've met other women who dislike it. But most men love it. I never would have predicted this. Though the main character is male, I always thought the novel tapped into something pretty universal.
posted by grumblebee at 6:11 AM on January 29, 2001


The thing about the kudos that are given to "Catcher" is that they always obscure Salinger's other books, which I think are miles better. "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" comes to mind.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2001


the greatest American novel of all-time

Why are we talking about "Huckleberry Finn" in a J.D. Salinger thread?
posted by rodii at 6:41 AM on January 29, 2001


I'm female and I liked the book... of course I dunno if that says much for the rest of my gender, I'm often an exception... I liked the book, anyway. I duno if it's the greatest American novel. Probably not. But it's a cool book.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:54 AM on January 29, 2001


Why are we talking about "Huckleberry Finn" in a J.D. Salinger thread?

We're not, we're talking about The Great Gatsby. ;)

My first partner (female) introduced me to The Catcher in the Rye, so the book has great sentimental value. That's my shared feeling for today.
posted by gleemax at 7:34 AM on January 29, 2001


I read Catcher as an adult, and I didn't find it very enjoyable, I think because it was too accurate, too reminiscent of what it was like to be an angstful teenage boy; I didn't need to read the book, as I had, in a limited sense, already lived it. Of course, that's a tribute to Salinger's skill. But I still didn't enjoy the book.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:48 AM on January 29, 2001


I thought we were talking about Absalom, Absalom!

But seriously, I don't think one's view of the novel is so much a gender gap as it is an age gap. I remember loving the book as a young teen, but when I returned to it in my late 20s, I wasn't nearly so enchanted. I could still see how "technically" good it was, but I just couldn't connect anymore. Two cents...
posted by trox at 8:37 AM on January 29, 2001


I remember not thinking much about it even as a teen. A book presented as "now here's a book all you teenagers should be reading" deserved no good reception by us.

It's funny. Another of the books targeted for us was Silas Marner -- or rather the DREADFUL Silas Marner. I had spent the first two years of High School hearing how dreadful Silas Marner was that by the time I actually had to read the thing, it didn't seem all that bad -- certainly beat the pants off Catcher in the Rye.
posted by leo at 8:52 AM on January 29, 2001


I only know one girl who can even stand Catcher. And I only know one guy who doesn't like it. I had to get special permission at my school to use it in a report.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:58 AM on January 29, 2001


Just to reiterate from a previous thread (and to stand as lone voice in the woods on this one): I loathed CITR. I found it tedious and pretentious and neither intellectually nor emotionally affecting. Of the nearly 2000 books that I have read, it literally ranks in the bottom 50 or so. I am constantly amazed by the quantity and passion of those who have taken this book to heart. More power to you if you got something from it. Personally, I think it sucks.
posted by rushmc at 10:06 AM on January 29, 2001


It's amazing how every time I re-read Catcher, I remember the words exactly... By far my favorite book at the age of 14. I remember sharing it with my female friends who also felt highly of it. At that age can you really dislike Holden?
posted by webcowboy at 10:18 AM on January 29, 2001


Why are we talking about "Huckleberry Finn" in a J.D. Salinger thread?

We're not, we're talking about The Great Gatsby.

I thought we were talking about Absalom, Absalom!

Guys, it's obvious you mean Catch-22.
posted by daveadams at 12:09 PM on January 29, 2001


Why are we talking about "Huckleberry Finn" in a J.D. Salinger thread?

We're not, we're talking about The Great Gatsby.

I thought we were talking about Absalom, Absalom!

Guys, it's obvious you mean Catch-22.


Or maybe Gravity's Rainbow. Admitedly I haven't actualy read any of the others...

Hey! I have an idea! Maybe there's no suh thing as "greatest" maybe it's all just a mater of taste!
Nah. Couldn't be.
posted by davidgentle at 2:33 PM on January 29, 2001


Before Amazon started listing only 10 customer reviews per page, you could list out every customer review on one page. And so you could list out all 1000+ comments for CITR (which I think took up at least 500K). If I recall correctly, you'd see batches of younger people leaving reviews, apparently the result of an assignment ("you must post a review by tomorrow!"). But since you now have to flip through all the pages, reading them is not as fun (who is going to flip through 140 pages?)
posted by gluechunk at 2:50 PM on January 29, 2001


I had to read this book last year, and I don't know if it was because we had to study all the symbolism every freakin' chapter, or because Holden is so damn depressing, but I didn't really care for it.
posted by Mark at 3:07 PM on January 29, 2001


Symbolism? What symbolism? Goddamned phonies...
posted by sudama at 3:09 PM on January 29, 2001


English class sucks. These critics gotta justify their own intellect and egos, so they make up all kinds of symbols and peer into the "true intent" of the author. I could just puke. I like books.
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:11 PM on January 29, 2001


Symbols? Really? CITR isn't exactly Moby Dick as far as that goes. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a duck in winter is just a duck in winter. CITR should be studied more for its character development, voice and local color.
posted by luke at 3:20 PM on January 29, 2001


My mom introduced me to CITR when I was twelve, and man, I ate that thing up like vitamins for the next five years or so. I think my love of reading was forever set in stone after I read that.

Anyway, for the anniversary, I dug up this outstanding monologue about CITR from John Guare's wonderful play Six Degrees of Separation (they made a movie of it too).

"Paul: Well...a substitute teacher out on Long Island was dropped from his job for fighting with a student. A few weeks later, the teacher returned to the classroom, shot the student unsuccessfully, held the class hostage and then shot himself. Successfully. This fact caught my eye: last sentence. Times. A neighbor described him as a nice boy. Always reading Catcher in the Rye.
The nitwit -- Chapman -- who shot John Lennon said he did it because he wanted to draw the attention of the world to The Catcher in the Rye and the reading of the book would be his defense.
And young Hinckley, the whiz kid who shot Reagan and his press secretary, said if you want my defense all you have to do is read Catcher in the Rye. It seemed to be time to read it again.
Flan: I haven't read it in years. (Louisa shushes him.)
Paul: I borrowed a copy from a young friend of mine because I wanted to see what she had underlined and I read this book to find out why this touching, beautiful, sensitive story published in July 1951 had turned into this manifesto of hate.
I started reading. It's exactly as I remembered. Everybody's a phony. Page two: "My brother's in Hollywood being a prostitute." Page three: "What a phony his father was." Page nine: "People never notice anything."
Then on page 22 my hair stood up. Remember Holden Caulfield -- the definitive sensitive youth -- wearing his red hunter's cap. "A deer hunter hat? Like hell it is. I sort of closed one eye like I was taking aim at it. This is a people-shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat."
Hmmm, I said. This book is preparing people for bigger moments in their lives than I ever dreamed of. Then on page 89: "I'd rather push a guy out the window or chop his head off with an ax than sock him in the jaw...I hate fist fights...what scares me most is the other guy's face..."
I finished the book. It's a touching story, comic because the boy wants to do so much and can't do anything. Hates all phoniness and only lies to others. Wants everyone to like him, is only hateful, and he is completely self-involved. In other words, a pretty accurate picture of a male adolescent. And what alarms me about the book -- not the book so much as the aura about it -- is this: the book is primarily about paralysis. The boy can't function. And at the end, before he can run away and start a new life, it starts to rain and he folds.
Now there's nothing wrong in writing about emotional and intellectual paralysis. It may indeed, thanks to Chekhov and Samuel Beckett, be the great modern theme.
The extraordinary last lines of Waiting For Godot -- "Let's go." "Yes, let's go." Stage directions: they do not move.
But the aura around this book of Salinger's -- which perhaps should be read by everyone but young men -- is this: it mirrors like a fun house mirror and amplifies like a distorted speaker one of the great tragedies of our times -- the death of the imagination.
Because what else is paralysis?
The imagination has been so debased that imagination -- being imaginative -- rather than being the lynchpin of our existence now stands as a synonym for something outside ourselves like science fiction or some new use for tangerine slices on raw pork chops -- what an imaginative summer recipe -- and Star Wars! So imaginative! And Star Trek -- so imaginative! And Lord of the Rings -- all those dwarves -- so imaginative --
The imagination has moved out out the realm of being our link, our most personal link, with our inner lives and the world outside that world -- this world we share. What is schizophrenia but a horrifying state where what's in here doesn't match up with what's out there?
Why has imagination become a synonym for style?
I believe that the imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world.
I believe the imagination is another phrase for what is most uniquely us.
Jung says the greatest sin is to be unconscious.
Our boy Holden says "What scares me most is the other guy's face -- it wouldn't be so bad if you could both be blindfolded -- most of the time the faces we face are not the other guys' but our own faces. And it's the worst kind of yellowness to be so scared of yourself you put blindfolds on rather than deal with yourself..."
To face ourselves.
That's the hard thing.
The imagination.
That's God's gift to make the act of self-examination bearable."
posted by Skot at 3:38 PM on January 29, 2001


. It's a touching story, comic because the boy wants to do so much and can't do anything. Hates all phoniness and only lies to others. Wants everyone to like him, is only hateful, and he is completely self-involved. In other words, a pretty accurate picture of a male adolescent.

errm, skot, make that adolescent, period.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2001


Wow, skot. Thanks. It's going to take a while to absorb that. Guare's essay actually speaks to me (at 37) more eloquently than CITR did (at 17).
posted by dhartung at 8:55 AM on January 30, 2001


I have an idea! Maybe there's no such thing as "greatest" maybe it's all just a matter of taste!

No, you're wrong. :)

Goddamned phonies

I admit I haven't read it in a while, but wasn't it "goddam phonies"? ;)
posted by daveadams at 10:28 AM on January 30, 2001


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