Monday, March 26, 2012
The Catcher in the Rye
I have no clue where or when I acquired this book. It's not the one I used in high school, and I am pretty sure it's not the one I used to teach high school in New York. I feel like I bought it used somewhere in order to have a copy of the book that looked like it did when I first read it.
At a certain point, the book had taken on the aura of a religious object to me.
Catcher in the Rye is largely responsible for my becoming a reader at all. When I first got sent to a private high school, against my wishes, I was mailed a summer reading list that included Dickens' David Copperfield. I tried to read it, but failed. Not only did I fail, I decided that I failed because of David Copperfield. I hated the book so much that I decided I would never read again.
I kept this promise for two solid years, regularly coming home with D's and C's in my English classes.
Then this book appeared on the summer reading list, with its famous opening line, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kid of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Here was a writer that spoke my language. That the rest of the book was an angst-ridden, obscenity laced tirade by a troubled, white, private-schooled teen only added to my love for it. I read it front to back in a single day and then again and again. It took a long time for me to be able to read another book, this one spoke to me so powerfully.
I was later shocked to discover that my students, most of them lower middle class minorities from the five boroughs, did not find Holden so interesting. Most thought him whiny and complaining and really unjustified in his unhappiness.
Still, the book holds a special place in my heart, even though I am unlikely to ever read it again. In fact, I hope Salinger actually did quit writing. One great book is enough for any writer, and besides, even if he did keep writing there is no way to anything he wrote could compare to this, given its cultural significance and the expectations readers would have for the new work.