Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Because I’m a masochist, I chose another 20th century stream-of-consciousness novel for the next read. I picked up a never-read copy of The Catcher in the Rye at my favourite secondhand bookstore, from a stack of identical perfectly-preserved copies – assumedly donated by some closed store or failed online retail venture. An auspicious beginning, no?

The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger - Keeping Up With The Penguins

J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel was originally published for adults, but has since (apparently) become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenaged angst and alienation. I say “apparently”, because I’m not sure that anyone’s actually asked the adolescents; sure, there’s around 1 million copies sold every year, but I’m pretty sure most of those are mandated reading for high-school book reports. How I myself managed to escape that particular rite of passage is beyond me…

(The book’s also quite popular with murderers, as it turns out, so there’s that.)

The Catcher in the Rye has received basically endless critical acclaim, and also has the honour of being the most censored book in U.S. high schools and libraries throughout the sixties and seventies. Reasons for censorship include its frequent use of vulgar language, sexual references, undermining of “family values”, encouragement of rebellion, promotion of drinking, promotion of smoking, promotion of lying, and promotion of promiscuity. This excited me to no end! My apprehension about its style aside, any book that undermines so-called family values is one that I can get behind.




Straight off the bat, I actually liked the narrator (Holden Caufield). He’s a bratty, rebellious teenager with a tendency towards profanity, tangential thinking, and wild exaggeration. Salinger’s characterisation was superb; it sounded like the diary of a teenage boy, you’d believe one had written it. I spent a lot of time wondering why I found The Catcher in the Rye so much more gripping and so much less annoying than My Brilliant Career. All I could come up with was the gender differential: characters that sound exactly like the type of person you know are so much less confronting than characters that sound exactly like the type of person you are.

Be warned: The Catcher in the Rye is mostly internal monologue – not a whole lot of plot. You just follow this wayward kid around new York for a few days while he drinks and smokes himself into oblivion (and chickens out of losing his virginity to a prostitute). You find out, on the final page, that he’s relating this story to you from the confines of a psychiatric hospital. Not that it’s a shock twist in the end or anything like that; you kind of get the vibe that this kid is bonkers right from the outset.

Holden’s got some interesting insights, though, and I laughed out loud more than once:

“So, I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They don’t hurt anybody, most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows?”

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, given my initial reservations about its style and the shell-shock of Mrs Dalloway (and, if I had to compare, I’d say that Mrs D was far more likely to make me want to kill someone, so all those murderers who loved Catcher should probably have read a bit more broadly).

Still, I’m not sure I’ll bother going back for seconds. I’d recommend The Catcher in the Rye to anyone who wasn’t forced to read it in high-school – you’ll probably enjoy it all the more for having avoided it for so long, as I did.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Catcher in the Rye:

  • “DISCLAIMER: I only made it into the first bit of the book. There might’ve been some amazing twist I never reached, but I couldn’t bring myself to continue, it was just so boring. The interactions take forever and say almost nothing at all, and when they do get a point across, it’s a depressing point.” – Jesse Gibson
  • “I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if the author knew this or not, but the teen in this book does quite a bit of drinking and I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to drink under 21. Now sure, we’ve all done it but does that make it right? Maybe. So I guess the real question here is, should we lower the drinking age? I don’t know. Ask JD Salinger.” – JACOB AND SUMMER
  • “Spoiler alert!! Book is not about a baseball player stuck in a giant loaf of bread.” – solomon glowitz

 

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8 Comments

  1. Another great review! I really feel like I don’t need to read this book now as you recapped it so well.

  2. I was assigned this book in high school but I did not actually appreciate it then. I liked it a lot better as an adult. I never really thought of it as a stream of consciousness modernist work but now that you mention it the description fits.

    Great commentary as always.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      April 11, 2018 at 11:24 AM

      Cheers Brian! I’m on the same page – I never would have appreciated Catcher in the Rye in high school, I’m glad I waited until now.

  3. “The Catcher in the Rye” holds a special place in my heart. Holden Caulfield, though annoying at times, was also the kind of free spirited young person we all wished we could be at that age. I say it holds a special place as I read this book as an adolescent, but not in school. I went to a catholic school where this is DEFINITELY not recommended reading, so this was my rebellion. Lol! Oh, don’t want me to rwad this book?? WELL, TAKE THAT!! Yes. I was quite the wild child. Lol!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      April 11, 2018 at 11:25 AM

      Ahahahahaha you rebel! 😉 Don’t worry, I went to a rather conservative boarding school, and I rebelled by listening to Nirvana and squirreling away a copy of an Anais Nin book (so she and Kurt Cobain have similarly precious places in my heart).

  4. The internal monlogue part worries me a little, spent rather too long on books of that sort which turned out to be dreary. Although the psychiatric hopsital sounds interesting I’m not sure I’m prepared to give the time to it and this review is fair warning.

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