Hello, Book Chewers!
One of my favorite things about TBC's blogging team is how different each of our literary diets are. We each have our own specialties . . . Cait is the Queen of YA, Charley is our Tolkien expert, etc. Unfortunately, that makes it difficult to find a book that we can all discuss. So to solve that dilemma, we've started inviting various guests to weigh in.
Today I'm discussing The Catcher in the Rye with Charley and MV, and we've asked Shelumiel from Bookish and Awesome and Emily from Emily Etc. to join us. There's a lot to cover, so this will be the first installment of our discussion. Hope you enjoy it!
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The first question we're addressing is: What was your original reaction to The Catcher in the Rye? What are your overall feelings now?
I went into it with an open mind, despite the fact that nothing about the premise of the book interested me. I made it about twenty pages before I started groaning and rolling my eyes at it. Once I read the last line, I slammed the book shut and tossed it across the room with an audible, "Thank god." I absolutely loathe it. I'm glad I read it, because now I'll get references to it in other books and TV shows, but I'm so, so glad to be done. It's definitely one of my least favorite books.
I first tried to read it when I was about twelve, but it was a bit too dense and slow for me, so I got no further than about half a chapter. Picked it up again at seventeen to give it another go. I think I might have expected too much of it - or at least been ready to rip it apart, because when people rave and rave and rave about a wonderful classic book that I'm an absolute pleb for not having read, that gets my hackles up.
I read it pretty swiftly, then threw it at a wall with a sense of smug superiority, knowing that it was by far the most over-hyped, pompous and deadly dull book I had picked up that year.
Now, I think I might have been a little hard on it. But I still hate it. I hate it a lot.
Whoa. Those are strong reactions both from Kate and Charley.
Okay. I read TCitR when I was nineteen. I recall being so pumped for it at that moment, as you all know, it's constantly getting references from different books and films and TV shows. I actually enjoyed parts of it, especially the one with the professor what's his name? Ha! Antolini. (Thank you Goodreads!) I remember being deeply moved by Holden's last conversation with him, which was towards the almost end of the story? And, sorting through it now, I guess was telling that I liked the book in some inner levels. Does that make sense? But any road, after turning the last page, this I have in mind vividly, I was like, what was that? What's the point?! So yeah. That ending really ruined the whole book for me.
The Catcher in the Rye seems to be polarizing. People love it or hate it. I expected to fall in the latter category, but instead I came away with mixed feelings. The book was fairly absorbing and I read it quickly, but I felt distant from the characters. I was rarely able to sympathize or identify with Holden, because he was spoiled and irritating. At the same time, I found his thought process fascinating; and at different points, I even understood/agreed with his cynicism.
Frankly, my overall feelings are still confused. I liked Salinger's writing style. I enjoyed some of the scenes, particularly those involving Phoebe. I could even argue that a few sentences hint at the profound. But I still feel detached and indifferent to Holden's problems, which isn't a feeling I'm accustomed to.
Yes, "distant" is a good word for it. Part of our mixed feelings about the book could be because we don't relate to it personally. I know a lot of people identify with Holden, and therefore they love it. My life is nothing like Holden's and I can't relate to him at all, so maybe that's why I have a hard time liking him and the book.
I have a pretty privileged upbringing too, and I still thought he was (pardon my French) a whiny, self-absorbed tosspot. Sounds too much like a kid who wants to feel special and above it all but has no reason to, so he makes up a bunch of empty existential angst to make up for it. For people who may have genuine reasons where Holden doesn't, maybe that would match up. Perhaps I just saw too much of the sort of people I knew and grew up with in him to take him seriously?
Oh, he totally was. He had no right to complain nearly as much as he did. He had it pretty good. There were people willing to help him, but he just. Didn't. Care. But you're right, I think some people do have genuine reasons for their angst, and so Holden feels like a friend to them. Where some people felt right at home with Scout Finch or Ramona others sought out Holden. And if that works for them, great. I personally don't get him.
Yes! "Detached" is the term that best describe our collective feelings toward Holden, right? And I also agree with Charley and Kate, not to heed to invalidating other's emotion, he's too whiny for a privileged kid.
I was told that The Catcher in the Rye "would change my life". The friend who told me this had said the same about The Great Gatsby, which I found definitely underwhelming (having subsequently studied it, though, I am head over heels for that book, but beside the point). However, about Catcher, I found my friend's high praise totally justified.
I see you saying that you can't relate to Holden, and I understand your feelings about his being spoilt. However, I personally was able to identify hugely with the character: a seventeen-year-old who is, when it comes down to it, confused about everything. He's searching so hard for truth and meaning that he's drowning in all the conclusions he's trying to draw from the world; he's lost, ultimately, for much of the novel, and I found this a deeply touching study of teenagedom. I'm aware that Holden's feelings of "angst" or confusion were to a greater extent than many teenagers will face, but that didn't stop me from relating to the character. In the end I found him lovable and moving; I pitied him. I sympathised.
The writing, also, I thought was beautiful. My favourite thing about the book was probably Holden's relationship with Phoebe; she was in so many ways his anchor point, which I loved.
RE: your "but what was the point": reading Salinger's Franny and Zooey in the summer, I was left with those very feelings. It was clever social commentary and I thought that someone could write a darned good essay on it ... but to me, it wasn't that interesting. However I found none of those problems with Catcher, which had me gripped from chapter to chapter!
As for the ending ... If I summed up the book in one picture, it would be this one.
On that note, we're turning the discussion over to you! Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts on The Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. And tell us: what would you like us to discuss further in our next installment?