Monday, December 1, 2008

Book 7: The Catcher in the Rye

Title:  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Pages: 214

How it was obtained: I bought it for a dime from our library's used book bin.  It was in good shape.  Not dog-eared or yellowed from age.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 or 5 months I think.

Days spent reading it:  4 days.

Why I read it:  The Catcher in the Rye is an American classic and very controversial.  I honestly wanted to see what was so controversial.  Also, it was one of those "classics" that I did not read while in high school.  In researching about it later I read that in 1981 it was the most censored book in US high schools and the second most taught book in high schools.  It was one of the 10 most challenged books in 2005, but it came off the list in 2006. Those are some fun facts for you.

Brief review:  
This book frankly annoyed me.  The writing has very repetitive and had many aggravating sayings in it.  The word "really" is used almost as much as the curse words that are prevalent throughout the book (one reason it is often censored--I would guess that gd appears 2-3 times a page at minimum, sometimes significantly more).  And I assure you, both appear more than they need to, I really mean it.  

Holden Caulfield is the main character.  He is the epitome of teenage angst.  His world is utterly pessimistic.  He sees only the bad in everything except his sister and his deceased younger brother.  He is bright, but is failing out of school.  He is obsessed with sex, but cannot develop a relationship with a girl.  He is active and pursues all the pleasure trappings that a big city have, but has no defining meaning to his life.  

The book covers three days between him being kicked out of school and his untimely return home.  Holden is depressed, hates everyone, exaggerates EVERYTHING (annoyingly so), and seems to have few people skills.  In short, he is the perfect anti-hero and irritating enough that I did not like him one bit while reading this book.

I suppose this book speaks to the hearts of some disaffected youth, but they would have to be interested in drudging through 200 pages of dribble in order to find the voice that Holden ultimately gives them.  

I found little redeeming quality in this book.  I felt like I was being attacked as a reader throughout the book.  The curse words were prevalent.  Holden's judgmental attitude and disquieting assessment that everyone was fake simply unnerved me.  The last 20 pages or so bring a little clarity to the book, but even that is not satisfying.  I read this article in wikipedia and found a little more clarity on the book, but not enough to ever allow me to suggest this to a friend.  I understand why people have tried to censor it (and sympathize with them even if I disagree with them), but honestly if it was not so controversial I think few people would ever pick it up and think "Hey, that's a great book!  Everyone should read this."  

In short, I'm glad I am not Holden Caulfield.  I respect those who relate to him and his story, but his life is from such a different perspective from mine that I never sympathized with the character and ultimately never connect to the book.

Oddly, in reflecting on the book some--the tone, the overall message, the anxiety it produced in me, perhaps I give J.D. Salinger too little credit.  He probably got the exact response that he wanted out of me.  I hate it when that happens.  This is probably one of those books you mull over for a long time and never really like it, because its not fun.  But you can respect it because of the emotions and conflict it produces in the reader.  How interesting--actually reviewing the book in writing has changed my mind regarding my final critique of the book.

Favorite quote: "Girls.  You never know what they are going to think."

Stars: 2 out of 5 (I originally was going to give it 1, but its moving up based on my reflections).

Final Word:  


Elizabeth B. Alexander said...

Good to know. Teenage angst annoys me, even though I'm still a bit curious. It seems from your review, the book does capture American teens? I really just don't think I'm like 200 pages curious.

Do you think it was censored just because of the foul language? Maybe teachers didn't want to encourage crappy teenage attitudes.

Patrick said...

Great questions. In regards to American teens--I think that The Catcher in the Rye captures some of them. Not every teen is utterly depressed and completely confused about their life and think everyone is phony. However, I think there are certainly teens who are disaffected and full of angst. I could see them being pictured accurately by Salinger.

Question 2--From what I read, the reason this book is cited for censorship is primarily the language issue (as I noted) and for its treatment of sexual thoughts. No sex is in the book (that's actually one element of Holden Caulfield's disassociation), but he does hire a prostitute. He just talks to her though. I think the attitude of Holden Caulfield is not the primary concern of censors.

Rob said...

Patrick, I just caught up on your reviews after a few weeks absence. Thanks again for doing this. 2 reasons: It gives me insights into you. You also do thoughtful reviews and aren't on some wierd tangent. I value your thoughts. Thanks for reviewing the books for the missions class. And the book by Jenkins. I am going to recommend that one to Steve.