The Catcher in the Rye


J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a book with a lot to say. Admittedly, I originally decided to read it due to notoriety of the book. Although the controversy has died down, it was once banned in many places. I figured that if the book was really so bad that school children couldn't read it, then it was probably worth reading.

About my general feelings toward the book: it made me uneasy, I felt like something bad was going to happen in almost every chapter; I also found the book amusing at times, the first few pages left a smile on my face, resulting from the unexpectedly genuine nature of the narrative.

While reading I was waiting for the name of the book to tie in somewhere. That's the thing about titles, I want them to mean something. I want to understand what the author decided should be the focal point of their story. Having finished the book there was a sense of frustration, stemming from having not fully understood what the title meant aside from the obvious song reference. Out of curiosity I looked it up to see what other people had to say and I agree with some of the theory but I think I need more time to dwell on the subject myself.

A large part of this book's appeal is the rawness. It really felt like I was getting a story from a 17 year old. I enjoy literature that brings out the thoughts and emotions of regular people that usually aren't shared. This type of intimacy is something that's hard to find in other media.

The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a captivating character. Relatable, yet while reading I was unsure of whether he's supposed to be relatable or not; unsure if I'm supposed to like the book or not. Perhaps that's exactly why it's such a good book. Sometimes being polarizing can make you extremely popular. I think some people like it when given a chance to look into their darker or less proper sides and see them openly manifested in a character. Others hide from that side of themselves.

The issues Holden faces are relatable. Heartbreak, family, death, suicide, sex, and drugs are all up for discussion. In particular, the role education plays in the novel really hit home for me. The peak of my anxiety with this book was Holden's experience with his teacher, Mr. Antolini. It seemed that the support he was receiving was genuine and I found the speech he gave (or letter he wrote?) to be thought provoking.

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

This line made me stop and think for a while. The reason being: I find myself fantasizing about somewhat self-destructive decisions based on ideas that I believe in. For example, at times I like to believe that I could do well for myself by leaving the university and pursuing my aspirations on my own. In reality, being a student has been good for me and has opened up opportunities that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Perhaps the mature decision is to advocate for self-education and pursue different opportunities outside of the university, while not abandoning my degree out of protest; this is the decision I usually comprise with. Interestingly, it's uncertain to me whether the mature decision is always the best one. In the right scenario I think good things can come out of an immature decision—although if death is avoidable that'd be a plus.

This is one of those books that definitely warrants a reread in the future—most good books do—if only to see whether I'll love it or hate it the next time around.

Aside: One thing I've been doing recently is paying attention to references made to books in different media—there were a couple books mentioned in The Catcher in the Rye—I think it's an interesting rabbit hole to go down so I might end up reading those in the future.