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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye

I read books the way kids watch movies on DVD – find one I like, buy the book and read it again and again. And again.

I first read Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. It was not a school assignment. In fact, I might never have heard of it were it not for a short story I read in a girl’s magazine. The boy in the story talked about reading The Catcher in the Rye because it was the only book a kid in high school was allowed to read that was full of language he would get slugged for using around his mother. High praise indeed, for a high school girl, and reason enough to check the book out of the library.

I read the book and immediately fell in love with both Holden Caulfield AND J.D. Salinger, quite missing the point that those very emotions would have alienated me from both author and character. Such is teenage love & angst.

I read the book with no thought of discussing it in any setting, certainly not a classroom one. But a few years later I met a boy and found that he had read the book and had strong opinions about it. We discussed it at length over coffee at Howard Johnson’s. We also discussed the movies The Graduate, 2001 A Space Odyssey and a few others. His propensity for “narrating” the movie and providing his version of director’s commentary during the film prevented me from seeing many films with him, and his insistence on a relationship deeper than I was prepared for at that time ended our budding friendship before it had a chance to develop into something more. His loss.

Apparently there is lots of symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye regarding Holden's red hunting hat, his sister, his brother Allie, dying of leukemia and his sense of disappearing. Funny, when I read the book I just thought it was about a malcontent teenager who did not want to accept responsibility for certain actions and who did not want to proceed with growing up to adulthood. I just cannot imagine Salinger deciding to write this book as an allegory filled with symbolism. I think Salinger was writing about himself and his own unwillingness to grow up. I think if I had written this book that’s what it would have been about.

I remember reading Watership Down by Richard Adams for a school assignment. I had a hard time drawing the symbolic inferences the instructor seemed to want us to. I felt much better when I later read an interview with Adams. When asked about the hidden meaning in the book he replied there was none. He just wanted to write a book about rabbits.

Although I have read Catcher in the Rye countless times, it was all I could do to get through Watership Down, and I do not believe I will ever read it again. I have kind of outgrown Catcher in the Rye, too, and would not be reading it or writing about it if it had not been a book club selection. Yes, it was my turn to choose the book this month. Catcher in the Rye was the only thing I could think of. I’ll let you know if I enjoy re-reading it to remember all the parts I have forgotten.

Quotable Quotes: in the category I Guess That About Says It All

"All morons hate it when you call them a moron."
- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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