Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger

As well-known and celebrated as this book is, it's hard to believe this was the first time I'd picked it up. How did I never read it before? It's one of those books I was just sure I must have read at some point in my life, but I was wrong.

It is an excellent novel, and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is written with brilliant characterization. Throughout the book he speaks with a pitiable bravado that seems to be set aside only in his interactions with his younger sister Phoebe. His tone alternates between biting sarcasm and bleak depression. Hud, who read the book just before I did, saw Caulfield as a "little punk who needed a boot up his [rear]", but I disagree. I will admit that he was probably viewed that way by many of the people who were acquainted with him, but he was not the insensitive and self-involved screw-up that his words and actions may have implied.

I wish I knew where I've heard the phrase "a gentleman and a scholar." (This is what Caulfield calls crumby Ackley not long before he decided to get out of Pencey). I'm sure I've heard that phrase before, and I'm sure that wherever I heard it, the inspiration was this book. However, it is interesting to note that Salinger probably got the phrase from the poem by Robert Burns entitled "The Twa Dogs," which contained this line: "His locke'd, letter'd, braw brass-collar, Show'd him the gentleman an'scholar." (No, I'm not enough of a smarty-pants to just know this off the top of my head. I googled it.) The reason I find this so interesting is that the title of this novel comes from another Robert Burns poem called "Comin' Through the Rye."

Side note: There is a movie entitled Chapter 27 (which I have not seen yet) about Mark David Chapman, murderer of John Lennon, who called himself Holden Caulfield and strongly identified with this book. This novel has 26 chapters, so that explains the name of the movie. I also vaguely remember rumors (as does Hud) that a number of other serial killers or famous murderers owned this book, though it would be interesting to note whether a larger proportion of the population of homicidal maniacs owns this book as compared to the proportion of normal people who own it, this being a common and well-known book. It's not as if Caulfield is a killer himself, although he does feel quite alienated from almost everyone, as I expect a homicidal maniac might.

The copy I read was borrowed from our local library (yay, library! You finally had a specific book I was looking for!) but I'm thinking I need to buy my own copy. It's definitely a classic and I will want to read it again sometime.

5 comments:

aph08 said...

One of the few books I have read twice and one of my all time favorites. I think I could read it again! I swear I am not homicidal!!

I have quite a few of the books you list of the right. I wish we lived closer we could exchange! I am scouring the library myslef these days looking for classic books I may have missed. Where did you come up with this list?

Kathy said...

I started this list years ago, making a note of books I felt like I "should" read but hadn't read yet--any time I thought of one, I marked it down. That part of the list is at the bottom here, from Anna Karenina on down (minus the Origo book, which I heard of on my trip this year). I always thought it was odd to see the percentage of those that were by Russian authors.

I recently added probably about 50 of the books on this list after doing that "100 books" thing, and I added a few more from other "greatest books" lists I found online. I didn't try to put them in alphabetical order, although I have tried to group multiple books by one author together.

Speaking of multiple books by one author, I added those books by Sam Taylor and Ian McEwan to this list after reading their books that I blogged about and loved.

The first 10 or so books on the list (the most recent additions) came from various sources: One which I've heard several people mention recently (Atlas Shrugged--I have The Fountainhead but that's the only Ayn Rand book I've ever read), ones Kat mentioned on her blog (she's my other blog follower), and ones I've seen while out shopping and was really tempted to buy because they looked so interesting but I resisted (for now) because Hud already thinks I buy too many books (and he's right).

I would love to do some kind of trade... maybe in 2011 I need to bring an extra suitcase and stuff it full of books *for* you, and when I head back home it can be full of books *from* you! You'll have to make your own list now, so I can see which ones I have that you need!

aph08 said...

I have scraps of paper all over the place! I need to consolidate my list! I just gave Memiors of a Geisha to my Aunt. It was a fabulous book. But I may not get it back for a while since she took it back to California with her to finish reading. And I gave some to the book swap in order to get credit for new books.
I also will be using the 100 list from FB to make some picks! My father read Ulysses, it was #1 on the NYT all time 100 list and he said it was a hard read but worth it.

Aloha Rob said...

When I taught in NY, I used to teach this book in a dual unit with Russel Bank's "Rule of the Bone." You should check that out.

I couldn't teach "Bone" at the Catholic School I moved into, but I then used "Rebel without a Cause" as a companion piece to "Catcher."

Kathy said...

Two more books to add to my list! Hey, I would love to see a list of all the books you taught, to see if I missed out on anything else.