Friday, January 29, 2010

JD Salinger

It's all over the news that JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, passed away.

My Google Reader is full of blog posts by people bemoaning his death and gushing over how influential Catcher in the Rye was in their life.

I can only scratch my head when I read things like that. Part of me wonders if the gushing is merely posing.

That's not a kind thing to think.

Yet....when someone says that Catcher in the Rye had a profound influence on them, or changed their lives, I can't help but wonder if I read a completely different Catcher in the Rye.

It's not that type of book, not a life-changing, inspirational, deeply affecting work.

It's a portrait of a teenage boy and his inner life as he careens around for a few days trying to get drunk and score with women and cement his image of himself.

What am I missing here?

How is that life-changing?

I'd really like to know how exactly Catcher in the Rye affected someone rather than read these vague, hollow phrases piled up like flowers at the grave of JD Salinger.


Anonymous said...

Thank You. I thought it was only me. And because of that I've always felt a tad bit of shame that I didn't get it. I've had a few years since I read it in school and had thought maybe I should revisit it. Feelings of "I must have missed something" that everyone else saw in it. But now, I'm not going to worry about it.


Jared Calaway said...

And to gush would be very anti-Salinger! This was a man who tried to stay out of the spotlight and became a recluse, hated to have his name in the paper, etc. By offering praises of him, people are ironically betraying him.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It feels significant and life-changing when you're an adolescent male, because HC swears comfortably and points out the hypocrisies of others, proving that he's really more moral than they are. Permission to misbehave, combined with self-righteousness, is a very sweet and heady liquor.

wv: trists

Retriever said...

Amen. Preach it, sister! :) I thought it a detestable book, and my teenaged daughters also hated it (I kept my opinions to myself to see what they would say independently).

Perhaps he stayed out of the limelight, embarrassed at juvenalia? Don't get me wrong, I love men, and am sympathetic to the feelings of adolescent boys. I love my son, and sympathize with the mixed bag of cultural expectations.

I hated the book.

terri said...

Interesting...maybe you have to be a guy to enjoy Catcher in the Rye?

I think certain books get put on the "good literature" list and can never be knocked down off of it because everyone assumes that there must be a good reason why it's on the list in the first place.

Books like Catcher in the Rye get noticed because they use a technique new to their time period and draw a lot of Joyce's Ulysses. But the actual content of the books don't hold up well over time.

It seems like a waste to have high school students read Catcher instead of something more substantial.

James Pate said...

I read on wikipedia that George H.W. Bush said it had a profound influence on his life. H.W. Not W. Digest that as you will...

Ken Brown said...

I don't know, I read it as "an adolescent male," and didn't like it at all. But I was a bit of a fundamentalist back then, and I think I just chafed at the notion that someone as immoral as Holden Caulfield could be considered a Christ figure.

Perhaps I'd appreciate the book more now, but I'm not terribly motivated to find out.

terri said...


HW Bush....Catcher in the Rye would have come out during his youth, I maybe he could relate to it?

Ken....good to know it's not just a male/female things...though I think all of the posts I read about Catcher were written by men.

Anonymous said...

You haven't posted in a while so that I'd check in to see how things were going. Especially since you had mentioned that your Grandmother had been ill. Trust you both are doing well.


Vinny said...

When I was in high school,I remember feeling torn between a strong desire to become part of the adult world and being terrified at the prospect of leaving childhood behind. Sometimes I wondered whether I wasn't going crazy.

I would not say that Catcher in the Rye changed my life, but I remember relating to Holden's inner turmoil. I think the book helped me to think about the conflicting feelings that I was struggling with and perhaps it helped make them less frightening.

I suppose that some people might have read the book as giving them permission to act like a jerk, however, I think it helped me understand why I sometimes felt like a jerk.

terri said...


Thanks for asking. My grandmother is actually doing much better, though she is still in the hospital trying to get back the use of her legs. She was so weakened by everything and being in bed so long, that she lost a lot if muscle mass.

Otherwise...I have been in and out of town a lot...and will be gone for several days again.

Thanks for thinking of me! ;-)