Published by Little Brown and Company on July 16, 1951
Genres: Classics, Literature
The Catcher in the Rye is a 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger. Originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation, language, and rebellion. It has been translated into almost all of the world's major languages. Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than 65 million. The novel's protagonist and antihero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion.
The novel was included on Time's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, and it was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the United States and other countries for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and teenage angst. It also deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation.
Why is this a classic? Why is this one of the “great” American novels? Jesus, did this book make me want to throw my e-reader across the room. I don’t get it.
So, a little bit of context: I read this for one of my book club’s classics months. I had heard from multiple people that it’s horrible, and that I would not enjoy it, but I was curious anyway. That mainly came from two reasons: (1) it’s such a highly regarded classic, and I felt kind of bad not having read it, and (2) it’s noted as having inspired (or at least a large influence on) The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is undoubtedly one of my favorite books of all time. To point 1, I say, literary people, I don’t get you; and to point 2, I say, teachers, start teaching Perks instead.
This book is stupid. Actually, in going to describe it, I’m struck with the urge to use old Holden’s annoying narrative style and all. If you haven’t read the book, you may not understand, so I’ll try to resist. You see, Holden Caulfield is one of the most annoying, idiotic, hypocritical douchebags I’ve ever encountered. And yeah, I’m sure that was the point. The Catcher in the Rye follows his story about how he got kicked out of his boarding school for failing everything (generally he didn’t bother to try at all). Basically, he goes around New York and just has one gigantic rant about how everyone he sees, EVERYONE, is a moron and a phony – before and after and sometimes during asking these people for favors and hanging out with them. He’s so hypocritical that it’s just about the most painful thing ever to read.
To make it worse, his narrative style is extremely juvenile, repetitive and grating. He’s constantly using the same phrases: “and all”, “or anything”, sort of”, “I swear”, “for Chrissakes”, “moron”, “”phony”, “old [character name]”, “it just about killed me”, “it drives me crazy”, etc. I’m thinking about how people went through Fifty Shades of Grey and counted the frequencies of phrases like “her inner goddess” or whatever being used – and the same could and should be done for The Catcher in the Rye. It’s – so – annoying. Granted, he is 16, so part of this could be considered his personality, and it was written in the fifties – so what the hell do I know about how they spoke back then. But if it was like this, god am I happy to be living in the now.
Aside from his annoying ranting, Holden’s actions speak even louder to the fact that something’s not right with this guy. He calls people morons and then invites them to go out for drinks or to the movies. He meets a stranger and they talk for two seconds, so he asks him to go get a drink. He smokes about 3 packs of cigarettes in one day. He’s arrogant about his own intelligence when it appears he has none. He’s outraged when people don’t serve him alcohol in bars, despite being 16. And it seems like he has ADD: not just in his ranting can he easily get distracted and go off on a tangent, but he’ll be doing one thing and then decide, “Hey! I should call up this girl right now, in the middle of the night, because she just popped into my head.” It’s confusing and messy, but I suppose it did kind of keep me reading, because the hint of something being wrong with him created a mystery that I wanted solved.
But the ending is probably the most aggravating part of all. View Spoiler »All throughout the book, you can tell there’s something not right with Holden. He talks about getting depressed, he even gets sicker and sicker in the last few pages, literally going to throw up and breaking out in sweats out of the blue. He references his dead brother, a classmate who committed suicide, his old teacher appears to try to molest him. And then. The freaking. Book. Ends. He seriously just cuts it out with a, “Well, that’s all I’m going to tell you,” and indicates that he’s in the hospital for SOMETHING. Jesus, fuck, seriously?? I don’t get ittttt. I’d very much like to know what’s wrong with him, in hopes that maybe I could bring myself to care JUST A LITTLE about him. Maybe I could empathize. JUST A LITTLE. Buuut no. « Hide Spoiler
That aside, worse is the fact that even at the end, Holden didn’t learn anything at all. He ends the book complaining yet again about how people were asking him if he would apply himself next year, and explaining that he didn’t know because that’s only something you know when you do it. That. NO. JUST. UGH. That’s a decision you are able to make in advance! No wonder you flunk – even now you won’t try. You know what? Fuck you, Holden. I don’t give two shits what happens to you. The way it is, this book just boils down to rich white people problems. Apparently I am unable to read any more into this. Where’s a good English teacher when you need one? Seriously though, things shouldn’t be THIS open ended. The set up isn’t done well enough to help me figure it out, and I don’t feel like I can trust Holden’s voice even for a second. Again: choose Perks instead.
Summing Up:In the words of Holden Caulfield: This book just about KILLED me. That old Holden Caulfield is such a goddamn moron. He doesn’t even realize he’s sort of the world’s most judgmental prick and all. Nothing happened but this goddamn rant about how everyone in the freaking world is so moronic, and the idiot didn’t even learn anything for Chrissakes. It just about drives me crazy! He’s the biggest phony of them all, and if I ever hear that word again it’s too soon. I swear, how anyone is able to like and praise this book or anything is beyond me.
(I realize you are free to like whatever books you like, and if this is a favorite of yours – that’s fine! I just don’t get it. If you want to try to respectfully explain it to me in the comments, feel free.)