Time to read “Catcher in the Rye” again?

On J.D. Salinger’s birthday . . .

The Catcher in the Rye was immensely important to me when I was in high school. Holden Caulfield’s jeremiad against “phonies” captured my sense of schoolboy estrangement; not surprisingly, another favorite book of that time was Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Of course, it goes without saying that there was something theatrical and contrived about my hauteur and superior disdain; this is a period of adolescence when many long-suffering parents have to put up with the world-weary sighs of their jaded(?) teens. Let me give you an image from that time: Myself and two friends at a high-school football game, a copy of Catcher in the back pocket of my jeans (somehow signaling my reservations about the scene in front of me).

Himself at that age. (Photo credit: Dan Larson)

In college, I fervently read other works by J.D. Salinger: Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, and Nine Stories. Later I found out a few things about the author: for example, his birthday is today, January 1 (1919).

Then in 1972 the New York Times Magazine published an account by Joyce Maynard about her affair with the reclusive fifty-three-year-old author when she was eighteen. It was kind of creepy. Later memoirs and an unauthorized biography or two (as well as movie) did little to subtract from that impression. Still, the books were so good and so important to me at one stage in my life, that I was willing to set them aside and embrace them while conceding that their author might have been a jerk.

Besides its personal importance to me, Catcher in the Rye is also important for what it begot. The special thing about the novel is its Voice, that first-person confessional tone of Holden Caulfield. Critics will suggest you can hear the same in earlier works like Huckleberry Finn and David Copperfield, and that may be partially true. But somehow the Voice in Catcher in the Rye went further, seemed more authentic, had less of the adult-author-doing-an-adolescent-voice ventriloquism.

So, you can also measure the importance of Catcher in the Rye by what it begot. Without it, we would not have, for example, the great girl narrators of Francesca Lia Block’s equally impressive Weetzie Bat or Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. Indeed, almost any brilliant young-adult novel today owes a debt to Salinger’s classic, whether that work is by Sherman Alexie or Rebecca Stead or Susan Patron.

It may be time to read “The Catcher in the Rye” again. Order it online or find it your local library.

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01. January 2017 by
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