I read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for Banned Books Week in September. It took me some time to figure out what I wanted to say about the novel, so my review is a bit delayed. Better late than never, I suppose!
About the Book:
Holden Caulfield has been kicked out of multiple well-known boys’ schools. In fact, he begins his story just after he’s been expelled from Pencey, his latest, and is waiting out the final days of the term before Christmas holidays, when he will leave Pencey for good and return to New York City. One night, a few days before winter break begins, Holden decides he’s too “sad and lonesome” to wait the term out at Pencey. He packs his bags, gets on a train to New York, and spends the next few days killing time in the city, wandering from hotel to bar to museum, calling anyone he can think of, and avoiding his parents.
The novel really only spans those few days, from just before Holden leaves Pencey to just before he sees his parents. It’s bookended by just enough mentions of “this crumby place” to make you suspect he’s not narrating from home or school. These brief paragraphs are all we really get of Holden’s future beyond the story he tells.
How, exactly, does one review J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye? Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by four years of high school, but I feel a composition exploring themes and unraveling characters would be more appropriate than a blog post. The difference between high school and now, though, is that I thoroughly enjoyed the reading and wouldn’t mind writing that paper!
I never read The Catcher in the Rye in high school. It was an option, but I chose to read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston instead. As I opened the copy of Salinger I’d gotten from the library for Banned Books Week, it occurred to me that I had no idea what the book was about. After reading the novel, I feel my question was misguided. It’s not what the book is about that’s important–it’s who.
Holden’s voice is what made The Catcher in the Rye for me. It’s rambling and unfiltered and exaggerated, teeming with verbal idiosyncracies and reeking of Holden’s personality. If you haven’t yet met Holden, here is a taste:
Anyway, I put on my new hat and sat down and started reading that book Out of Africa. I’d read it already, but I wanted to read certain parts over again. I’d only read about three pages, though, when I heard somebody coming through the shower curtains. Even without looking up, I knew right away who it was. It was Robert Ackley, this guy that roomed right next to me. There was a shower right between every two rooms in our wing, and about eighty-five times a day old Ackley barged in on me. He was probably the only guy in the whole dorm, besides me, that wasn’t down at the game. He hardly ever went anywhere. He was a very peculiar guy. He was a senior, and he’d been at Pencey the whole four years and all, but nobody ever called him anything except “Ackley.” Not even Herb Gale, his own roommate, ever called him “Bob” or even “Ack.” If he ever gets married, his own wife’ll probably call him “Ackley.” He was one of these very, very tall, round-shouldered guys–he was about six four–with lousy teeth. The whole time he roomed next to me, I never even once saw him brush his teeth. They always looked mossy and awful, and he damn near made you sick if you saw him in the dining room with his mouth full of mashed potatoes and peas or something. Besides that, he had a lot of pimples. Not just on his forehead or his chin, like most guys, but all over his whole face. And not only that, he had a terrible personality. He was also sort of a nasty guy. I wasn’t too crazy about him, to tell you the truth.
Long-winded? Meandering? Yes. That’s Holden.
Crazy as he might have been, I really liked Holden. The poor guy is disillusioned with pretty much everything in his young world, so his attitude is as sour as they come. He acts badass, but he’s just a nice guy underneath. Despite all the swearing (seriously, the most foul-mouthed of sailors would be proud), I can see why this book is often a favorite of high school English students. Holden is relatable in a way many other classics characters are not.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Holden quotes:
What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
Have you read The Catcher in the Rye? If so, how old were you when you did? If not, do you have any interest in it? And of course…what author do you wish was a “terrific friend of yours” so you could call him or her whenever you liked?