Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

It's great to be able to kick off the blog with a review of a classic. My book club is reading Catcher in the Rye this month. We had a great deal of discussion about whether or not to read it. Many of us had already read it and were not enthusiastic about reading it again, while others were interested in rereading it from an adult perspective and in the opportunity to discuss the book with others. Coincidentally, my son's high school English class is reading Catcher at the same time, so I'm in this terrific situation in which I can reread the book as an adult and discuss it both with an adolescent reading it for the first time, and with a group of other adults. 

I hadn't read Catcher in the Rye since high school, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it again all of these years later. What struck me more than anything was the degree to which the book is greater than the sum of its parts. When the elements of the book are analyzed, it's clear that the book has a lot of weaknesses. It is not particularly well written, and the character of Holden Caulfield comes across as spoiled, overindulged, self-absorbed and whiny. Yet, despite its flaws, the overall experience of reading the book is tremendously powerful. It's striking that this book has resonated so strongly with generations of adolescents, despite the fact that Holden is in many ways not at all typical. He is wealthy and privileged, attends elite schools and has expensive possessions. Yet, Holden Caulfield has become emblematic of disaffected youthful rebellion. There is something about Salinger's depiction of Holden that is, at its core, so emotionally authentic that adolescents identify strongly with Holden, in spite of his differences from the average teen. 

Since finishing the book several days ago, I've been unable to stop thinking about it, which is another indication of its power. Catcher in the Rye raises so many provocative questions. Is Holden Caulfield, who despises phoniness actually a phony himself? Why is Holden so sensitive to his sister Phoebe and so intolerant of everyone else? Why has this book endured and why does it speak so powerfully to adolescents? Catcher in the Rye, followed by Rebel Without a Cause, was one of the first works to introduce the concept of the American adolescent as disaffected and alienated. Has this been good for subsequent generations of teens? Has it given voice to their experiences, or has it glamorized negativity and rebellion in an unhealthy way?

I'm looking forward to the book club discussion. Catcher in the Rye is an enduring classic, and revisiting it has been a wonderfully thought-provoking experience

Why this blog?

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a really long time. Probably a few years, and finally decided to take the plunge. I love books and reading, and hope that this will be a nice way to share reviews and thoughts about books with other reading fanatics.