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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Catcher In The Rye Review

I suspect that I’m not the only member of Generation X who should’ve read this book while young, but didn’t, and have now rediscovered it as a middle-aged adult. I have a vague recollection this book was assigned reading when I was in college. I probably skimmed it, wrote a paper about it, got my passing grade, and moved on, as I did with many a reading assignment in the ‘80s.

I’m afraid I would’ve enjoyed it more, had I not been influenced by all the hype. There’s only one thing worse than assigned reading by a professor, and that is recommended reading from family or friends. The childish rebel in us all wants to do the opposite of what we’re told we should do. This is also one of those books that people my age are always being asked whether they’ve read or not, particularly male English majors like myself, and then worse being told they should read it, usually by some phony who got way more out of it back in his day because of what was considered in its time to be rebellious, controversial language. The funny thing is, phonies (to use the main character Holden Caufield’s favorite adjective) like these seem to have missed the book’s main message, which was perhaps hidden by their excitement over the blunt teen colloquialisms of that era.

To me, this book should teach a lesson to the reader that one shouldn’t try to ship their kids off to schools to rid themselves of the hassles of parenthood when those kids are unwilling or uncertain about it. Such action puts parents at risk, after becoming empty-nesters, of wishing they’d spent more time with their kids and had developed better relationships with them. This book is filled with conversational language and stream-of-consciousness writing style that, while entertaining, masks the overall message of the importance of family.

At first glance, one might think the protagonist’s cynicism is hilarious, but upon further discovery one realizes it is incredibly sad. Likewise, on the surface it appears to be a simple story of a child struggling with becoming an adult, when in fact it is a deeper tale of neglect, and of a depressed child being “pushed out of the nest” before ready. When Holden hears the little kid singing the “Catcher In The Rye” song, and it makes him feel better, it’s because the scene symbolizes his yearning to be a happy child with the comfort of his family nearby. Holden’s parents continually want to ship him off to any boarding school who will take him, which not only shows they don’t care much for him, but aren’t willing to put in the effort to prepare him for the challenges of adulthood. One would think his parents would want to maximize their time with him, having lost another child previously, but the opposite has occurred.

At age 16, Holden wants what he’s never been able to get -the love of his parents. Although they’ve provided for him well, it is apparent that he does not value being sent to the finest schools, having the finest clothing, etc., and instead contemplates moving to Colorado for a more modest life devoid of such superficial things and the types of people who value them. He decides to stay home for one reason only, and that is to be able to spend time with the one family member who returns his unconditional love, his little sister Phoebe.
Maybe the moral lesson to be learned is that one should consider himself lucky if he can count on his hand one relative with whom it is important for him to maintain a meaningful relationship - one that includes unconditional love; and that to be a wealthy person one needs much more than material things or the “advantages” of a prep school education.

Author's note:  Originally posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 as a book review on Amazon, and spurred on by the passing of J.D. Salinger in 2010, I am reposting in 2014 as I rearrange my two different blogs.

2014 Update:  And the songwriting lesson to be learned might be that one should consider himself lucky to have relatives and a spouse who support their creative hobby by letting them spend time enjoying it.  Songwriters need unconditional love, and if you are someone who must write songs in your free time, you are lucky if your wife will not only put up with it, but actually encourage it.  Parents too, should encourage their children to pursue creative endeavors like songwriting if the kids are interested.  Think of the great works of art that make the world a better place, which wouldn't exist if their creators weren't allowed to make them, and weren't encouraged by someone along the way to make them.  It makes a world of difference, and a difference in the world.