Friday, September 21, 2007

Book Snobs, Unite!

I finally got around to reading The Catcher in the Rye recently, and I must say it was quite enjoyable. However, I'm having a hard time understanding what exactly qualifies it as this flaming "classic" that usually makes people foam at the mouth when they talk about it. Perhaps all the build-up it's gotten has ruined its excellence for me? Perhaps I can't fully appreciate it because I never read it as a teenager? Or perhaps it's not quite as great as everyone claims? Help me out with this. I will even make a list of its pros and cons, from my point of view, to get you started.

* Salinger is a very witty writer and I laughed out loud in several spots.
* The story flowed very naturally and held my interest easily.
* The character of Holden Caulfield is incredibly well-developed. He really does jump off the page.
* Salinger is excellent at writing in Holden's "voice." He never does anything that seems out of character.
* I can relate to a lot of the feelings that Holden how the smallest things that strangers do can make him want to puke. (After all, I do ride the subway every day.)

* I'm not really sure what the point was! And is it wrong that I would laugh at this character who is obviously going through some kind of mental breakdown?
* How many times can one kid use the words "goddamn" and "crumby?" I mean, come on. I understand about staying in Holden's voice, but it started to drive me a bit crazy.
* The reveal as to what the title referred was kind of a let-down.

Pull up a chair. Have a cup of tea.* Discuss. But let me repeat for all the Caulfield disciples...I liked the book very much. I'm just not sure I would call it one of the greatest pieces of American literature, as it so often is.

*You know how I feel about coffee. Don't you?


chez béz said...

So much in art and literature is subjective, so I take with a grain of salt whether or not something is designated "great" or "classic." It is whatever it is to its audience, one person at a time.

As for me, I read it 1) as a teen boy, and 2) with very little build-up as to its "greatness." I liked it a lot and saw myself in Holden from page one. And I haven't picked it up since.

Writeprocrastinator said...

1) Regardless of any adult's empathy, it's a book that should be read as a teen. The impact of the angst is harder to relate to as an adult.

2) There really is no point or climax, it's just a slice of life.

3) I'm glad you didn't call it "Boy Interrupted."

Grant Miller said...

This is such a goddamn crumby review.

I'm kidding.

I haven't read this since like 1992. But I flip through it occassionally.

Holden leaps off the page like you said. Although I haven't read it in years, I'd say, from what I remember, it still stands up as a proto-typical "rite of passage," or "coming-of-age story."

Maybe it's just one of those things you have to read in your teens. I don't know.

Les Becker said...

Yeah, but it was published in 1951. How many incredibly good (classic, even) books have been published since then? I think, if it were to come out now, maybe it wouldn't get the huzzah the same way it did. Maybe.

Glad you read it. Now get on with reading Vonnegut!

chelene said...

I haven't read this since junior high school and I didn't love it then. Maybe I'd appreciate it more now.

Lee Ann said...

Thank you so much for the happy birthday wish!
Have a great weekend!
Lee Ann

Dale said...

I've never read it Beckeye nor am I convinced that I know how to read so I'm not sure who owes who the tea.

Anonymous said...

Alienation, loss and betrayal is what I got out of that book so many years ago. Like 1974ish! Maybe I should read it again, back then I was forced to read it.

LoraLoo said...

I was forced to read it in high school, but I do remember enjoying it. I would agree one could probably relate to it more as a teenager.

Skylers Dad said...

It was OK I guess, but for real turn the page excitement, you have to go to the Bob the Builder Pop-Up books!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I think the big hue and cry of love for this book stems from the fact that nothing much like it had hit the shelves before. No young male protagonist had spoke they way Holden did about life. It was new and refreshing at the time and through time he became a mouthpiece for disaffected youth everywhere. That's my 2 cents.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What Monkey said.

It certainly is a book that appeals more to an angsty teenager than to a coiffed and polished woman of the world like yourself.

Slave to the dogs said...

I blame the hipsters. That crowd never managed to lose their teen angst.

Seriously - I finally got around to reading this in my 20s. Same impression as you - great story, but not the epic I expected it to be.

Bubs said...

I've read this story twice, both times more than 20 years ago. And I can't remember much about it, except I remember thinking I wanted to slap Holden and tell him to snap out of it, and that's when I read it in 10th grade.

Anonymous said...

I love that book although it's been years. My step daughter is reading books like that now. She goes to the internet and reads the synopsis and then gets the major points and themes and reads the book.

Back in my day, we just read the book. I would say it's the Gen X book before there was Gen X.


pistols at dawn said...

I concur with everyone else - like 1984 or Brave New World, it's best enjoyed as a teen, when you can nod and say "so true" to broad, sweeping generalizations condemning people and society.

I used to teach high school English, and even the remedial kids loved this book more than the superior Great Gatsby, mostly because it cursed and hated stuff and didn't sound stuffy.

Salinger is about 2/3rds the writer people give him credit for being. Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories are impenetrable in parts, bad at times, but occasionally brilliant and always interesting is better than 93% of other authors. Plus, he's crazy, and people respect that.

Turnbaby said...

I think it's a book that is of a time and place--that being youth and uncertainty.

I think it just has more appeal if you are closer to that age. it's not a book I would read again.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Never read it -- which is insane for an English major. But, it's just one of those things... a few of the "classics" never crossed my path. I did read his Nine Stories, though, but it's been a while. Maybe I'll pick up catcher soon & see if I agree.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

Wow, can i just ditto chez bez, with the exception that I did pick it up again but it didn't have the same appeal.

I just posted about Nikki Sixx's book. I wish I could not relate to how f'ing depressed he was.

Moxie said...

It's a teen classic that resonates in the same way that Rebel without a Cause probably did when it came out - chock full of teen angst and edginess. Remember The Outsiders? That might now be considered a classic from our generation.

Beth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

I'm not a literary expert (although I have played one on TV), but I'm going to attempt to explain the universal accolades for Catcher in the Rye.

The book was one of the first novels to talk about teen angst, so it was revolutionary for its time. If memory serves, it takes place around 1950 -- the post-war headed-for-Eisenhower years.

Why is it still relevant? Because teens today can still relate. My sixteen-year-old nephew read it over the summer. He got it and loved it, got/loved like he did Fight Club.

In summation: A novel written nearly sixty years ago, one that first broached teen angst, is still relevant today. We can relate to it more than we can the life of the March family.

Alice said...

i first picked up catcher in the rye as a teenager..... and hated it. i thought it was so boring i couldn't even finish it, and this is coming from someone who read so much as a kid that my mom used to kick me out of the house to go play.

i read it again recently, and.. yeah. i mean i got through it this time, i mostly enjoyed it, but definitely feel the way you do about it.

Chancelucky said...

I sat down to try to write a comment and then read Beth's and she more or less said exactly what I was going to say.

I do think you have the same take on the strengths and weaknesses of Catcher in the Rye that I saw in it. I was never one of those wowed by the thing. To me, it was just a very strong narrative voice.

Like Beth, I believe the book largely anticipated the post world war 2 rise of "youth culture" and thus struck a chord for the angry, alienated, etc. in a time that was big on conformity.

twit said...

Thunder Tits eh?

Well done.. long as they're real!


Anonymous said...

please everyone ask yourself these questions...
1) who is holden talking to? (hint-it is not you)
2) where is he while he is going on and on about the recent events in his life?
Keane (the professor) :)

Coaster Punchman said...

The point? It's about how children are all pure and innocent until growing up fucks them over and takes them to the dark side. That's the whole metaphor from the poem "if a body catch a body comin' through the rye...." - Holden wants the catcher to catch people to stop them jumping over the cliff into adulthood.

Or some shit like that.

You keep dissing my book and I'm going to have about two hemorrhages apiece, though.

Coaster Punchman said...

Oh, and the ABBA party post is up. Check CPW. Hope you're still planning to go.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

Mentioned you on Layla's today because I don't think there will ever be a time that I will think of JT without also thinking of you!

cube said...

Oh I'm so happy to see you tackle books...

Catcher In The Rye is one of those books best appreciated by people in the throes of coming of age. That way, they can gaggle conspiratorily about all the subversive stuff they've had their tiny skulls exposed to.
Once you've reached a certain age, it isn't really that big a deal.

Writeprocrastinator said...

Oh, and see? The Steelers beat the Niners and then, you don't want to come by my blog anymore.

Sheesh, Pittsburgh women...

An80sNut said...

I have this on my 'to read' list. I just need to purchase it and put it in cue.

Tanya Espanya said...

I also read it when I was a kid (12, I think) and it was, Meh. Read it again around 18. Same, meh.

Now, can someone do a post about how the whole teenage phenomenon came to be, and how it's a recent and manufactured 'age'.

the frogster said...

I think it qualifies based on the impact it had when it was written, in the same way that Beethoven had an impact at his time but we don't necessarly get it today. I'm not sure if I've cracked 30 comments yet, but you're now up to 34 on this post. Huzzah, Huzzah!


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