Skip to comments.J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Aging Gracelessly
Posted on 10/23/2004 6:55:30 AM PDT by jalisco555
Precisely how old I was when I first read "The Catcher in the Rye," I cannot recall. When it was published, in 1951, I was 12 years old, and thus may have been a trifle young for it. Within the next two or three years, though, I was on a forced march through a couple of schools similar to Pencey Prep, from which J.D. Salinger's 16-year-old protagonist Holden Caulfield is dismissed as the novel begins, and I was an unhappy camper; what I had heard about "The Catcher in the Rye" surely convinced me that Caulfield was a kindred spirit.
By then "The Catcher in the Rye" was already well on the way to the status it has long enjoyed as an essential document of American adolescence -- the novel that every high school English teacher reflexively puts on every summer reading list -- but I couldn't see what all the excitement was about. I shared Caulfield's contempt for "phonies" as well as his sense of being different and his loneliness, but he seemed to me just about as phony as those he criticized as well as an unregenerate whiner and egotist. It was easy enough to identify with his adolescent angst, but his puerile attitudinizing was something else altogether.
That was then. This is half a century later. "The Catcher in the Rye" is now, you'll be told just about anywhere you ask, an "American classic," right up there with the book that was published the following year, Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." They are two of the most durable and beloved books in American literature and, by any reasonable critical standard, two of the worst. Rereading "The Catcher in the Rye" after all those years was almost literally a painful experience.
(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...
Tbe best of Hemingway IMHO, in order:
1. For Whom the Bell Tolls
2. A Farewell to Arms
3. The Sun Also Rises
I enjoyed his short story collections too.
My life was formed by my 5th grade english teacher, Mr Cockey (and yes we had fun with that) who assigned these books for the year: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge. Pretty heady stuff for 10 year olds and I thank him for it. This was in a public elementary school in Md.
You're almost right. Teachers force these books down kids' throats as "literature" and it lowers their expectations of what's possible with the written word for life. Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was shocked when he learned his book was being taught in public schools. He said, "Nest isn't even a pimple on the a@@ of American literature. They should be reading Moby Dick!"
In high school, my teacher assigned books like Faulkner's As I Lay Dying
Pretty much have to agree. It's in my Top 5 for sure.
What are the other four? I'm begging!
I guess I'll have to read it to find out what all the fuss is about. Don't know how I got to age 51 without having done so, but I guess I was never in a 'rebellious' enough frame of mind.
I suspect Catcher made a huge impact on Kerry. Count how many times a day he rails against his foes as phonies. (Talk about projection!)
Phony was my favorite word, too, after I read the book. But then I turned 14.
Theory on left vs. Right---Right --- individualism without the self-centeredness creating a strong community of commited moral people. Left-----groupism feeding on victimization and self-pity leading to social decay. Just a thought.
My ninth grade english teacher had us read Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.......if I ever run across her I'll slap her silly.
I've read that as well as "Catcher" but my favorite by far is "Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters."
It really catches the flavor of a family get together.
Kid stuff, I had to read Tobias Smollett. I believe forcing young people to read TS is a felony in many states.
I agree with you. I have never understood the magic of Hemingway. I love William Faulkner and Albert Camus, and I like Scott Fitzgerald, but Hemingway just leaves me wondering what am I missing?
The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas) has to rank right up there. Even the unabridged version is nearly impossible to put down.
For 20th Century literature, Invisible Man and Brideshead Revisited are among my favorites. I also have a weakness for Tolkien-- I re-read Lord of the Rings every 4 or 5 years.
For modern fiction, I love almost anything by Richard Russo (Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool, The Risk Pool).
All the King's Men, however, stands in a special class. I think you just talked me into taking it off my bookshelf! (I do need SOMETHING to take my mind off all these polls for the next 10 days.)
What did you think of the movie version of Nobody's Fool?
I know it didn't do too well, but I enjoyed it. Bruce Willis did some real acting in that film-- loved that character. And Paul Newman turned in another great performance (WHY does he have to be a leftie?). I may be biased because of the "upstate NY" background.
Ha! My sentiments exactly Bruce Willis can actually act. Who knew? And having spent time in upstate NY, I think they nailed it, exactly. I watched it in July and still felt cold...as for Newman and his politics -- I don't ask my dentist (and he's a really good dentist) to program my computer, why would I look to actors for political advice?
Hehehe. Oh, yeah. Waaaaay older.
Yeah, sorry to say, you missed the boat. I love books as much as anyone, but I still find grown up adults reading Catcher a little creepy. But that could just be me.
Try Stop Time, This Boy's Life or Duke of Deception -- all of which are excellent reads. Note: The last two should be read back to back, as they were written by brothers covering the same period of time.
Are they excellent enough reads that a woman (that's me) would enjoy them? I don't read as much as I used to, can't find much time, except when I'm travelling and stuck in airports and sitting on planes. So lately I've tended to buy the sort of book that reads quickly and easily, but isn't necessarily intellectually stimulating, or takes much of my brain power. Sad, huh?
I have always felt Salinger was well aware that Caulfield was not much, if at all, better than those he so disdained. When I read the book I actually felt that was what made it worthwhile.
That said, Old Man and the Sea is truly Hemingway's worst work, and I am a huge fan of his writing. The awards were "Lifetime Achievement Awards" because his early work had been too masculine for the literary elite. I angered my honors English teacher when she assigned it because I told her it would make much more sense to read something he had written that was actually readable.
This Boy's Life and Duke might be a little tough for a woman. They portray an extremely dsyfunctional household --in brief, when the parents divorced, one boy went with the father and one went with the mother. The father was a con man and the mother had emotional problems, and married the wrong guys, etc. etc. etc. No hilarity ensues.
On the other hand, Stop Time remains an excellent book of a very strange childhood with a happy ending. Though not short, it's also a very quick read.
All these books are nonfiction, though Stop Time may be billed as fiction.
Wasn't Catcher in the Rye the book in Conspiracy theory, i.e. that was the clue you had been programed by the evil CIA or whatever?
Yes it was.
Holly is that you?
MD is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, you have to find a free month in which to read it at a leisurely pace. This is difficult for a lot of people
Thank You! I've not read any of those, so looks like I'm in for a treat.
I tried to get through that book several times, because I felt I should like it. I never made it.
The guy had a 19th century sensibility. Plus, he was a very odd guy. I can't hold him to 21st century standards of "get to the poiint, already." I read the thing after being "at sea" over an extended period and loved it. I haven't re-read, but do go back and dip into it every once in awhile.
LOL Do I know you?
"...I just couldn't feel sorry for a rich kid slobbering over himself in a rich boarding school...I mean, get a break. I had to work part-time and study hard."
Worse than Catcher in the Rye were his books Franny and zooy and Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenter, all of which I read and reread because I kept searching for the reasons others thought they were great books. Never have found the reasons.
I'm off to the library to check out "All the Kings Men".
If it stinks, I coming looking for you. :-)
John Cheever wrote great short stories, as well.
Can't believe i said their instead of there...
man, I am losing it.
Ah yes, the Beat Generation produced such giants as Allen Ginsberg, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. More akin to trolls than giants.
I'd toss 'Catcher in the Rye' on to the same bonfire with such modern entertainment as 'South Park'. Same genre of garbage.
Ok I'm not the only one who's crazy. I loved Catcher In the Rye and Franny and Zooey. I think there is a statement to be made for conservatives to like this book. It's about disillusionment with establishment. Remember, even Holden's liberal teacher makes a homosexual pass at him. The author is a pervert, but I still like both of these books, and I'm an English teacher.
I've never read "The Catcher in the Rye," and, now that I've read the brief excerpts in this review, you may be sure this won't be one of the "neglected classics" I pick off the library shelf! YUCK!
I forgot about "Big Two-Hearted River."
Just a short story, but my favorite of all.
Jeesh, I loved "Catcher in the Rye". I've read it 4 or 5 times and have gotten something new out of it with every reading. Sure, Salinger is no William Faulkner, but then again, who is?
I guess I don't get it. I loved those books.
Apples and oranges. Old Mand and the Sea is a character work and cannot be compared to For Whom the Bell Tolls which despite the strong lead of the protagonist of Jordan, is still an epic with it's subplots within subplots. OMS stands the test of time as one of the best character works of any author, ever.