Friday, June 4, 2010

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

For some reason, I've never read The Catcher in the Rye. I switched high schools in the summer after grade 10, so although I got stuck reading The Lord of the Flies twice, I've never read J.D. Salinger's classic novel. Reading it became so much more important when my husband and I named our son "Holden", and many people asked if we had named him after the famed literary character. We didn't. So, when Mandy, my virtual friend from Mandy's Life After 30 spent a month reading classics as a personal challenge to herself, I decided to finally read The Catcher in the Rye, and she decided to read it along with me!

The Catcher in the Rye is the story of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield. He's just been kicked out of yet another boarding school for failing, he finds his roommate annoying, and he's in trouble with the fencing team because he left their foils on the subway and they had to forfeit their game. It's right before Christmas vacation, and rather than sticking around, he decides to head back to New York, where his parents and little sister live (older brother D.B. is a screenwriter in Hollywood). He doesn't want to return to his parent's apartment, though, because they don't yet know that he's been kicked out and he isn't due home until Wednesday. So, he takes the money that he's been sent by his senile grandmother, rents a hotel room, and spends time wandering around New York, calling up previous friends and teachers, getting drunk, and generally wasting time. We later find out that after all of his wandering he ends up in a psychiatric hospital, dealing with his psychiatric issues.

Can I admit (without being booed out of blogging-land) that I just didn't get this novel at first glance? I understand that it's a classic, I understand that it has been studied in high schools around the world, but I just didn't get it. Perhaps I would have understood it better if I had read it as a teenager, rather than as an adult. The frequent profanity didn't bother me (although this is the reason that many parents have lobbied to have it removed from school curriculum), but I just found myself thinking "when is something going to happen?".

Luckily, I found this reading guide, which I found infinitely helpful for decoding The Catcher in the Rye. I understand now that this is a coming-of-age novel. I understand that Holden is in a kind of stasis, unable to move forward to adulthood, yet unable to fully participate in being a teenager. Now I understand that there was really no climax to the story, but rather a series of smaller climaxes. After having devoured the reading guide, the story makes much more sense to me and I can understand the overall significance.

I'll be honest: this is something that I have little desire to read again, but I am glad that I read it. Now when someone asks me "Did you name your son after Holden Caulfield?", I can tell them that I didn't, but I will at least know more about the literary character that they are referring to. Plus, I broadened my reading horizons!

Rating: Can you really rate a beloved classic? Well, I'm not going to :)
Recommended to: Anyone looking to read more classic (award winning) novels
Challenges: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge 2010, 2010 Support Your Local Library Challenge, Read, Remember, Recommend Fiction Reading Challenge

Other Reviews:
Josette at Books Love Me


  1. Are you just being too chicken to rate it? I'll start you off: I don't like this one at all. I didn't like it the first time I read it as a pre-adolescent and I still don't like it as a middle-aged adult. It was boring and angsty to me each of the times I've read it (three times at last count including for school in 10th grade).

  2. :) I have to say that I liked the book. And wow, your son's name is Holden, even though it's not named after the character.

    One of my favourite parts in the book was the relationship between Holden and his sister. That was really sweet.

    ooh, I've visited the reading guide you mentioned too. I had to read this book for my English class and wanted to answer it in the exam so that guide helped me a little in understanding the novel. Lifesaver. :)

    Here is my review of the book. Thanks!

  3. Kristen: I'm totally being a chicken. I would have give this one a 2.5, possibly a 3, but then I figured that I would get a lot of "But it's a classic!!!", so I chickened out, LOL!!!!

    Josette: I did like the relationship between Holden and his sister- esp. at the end when she wanted to go with him. Probably one of the best parts of the book for me!

  4. I read this as an adult and I think I liked it. I can't locate my review, so it might have been before I started blogging.

    I'm sure I missed all of the symbolism and whatnot, but I enjoyed it (I think) anyway.

  5. I loved this book, it is definatly a classic to me!

  6. Thanks for reading this book along with me Jonita! It's what kept me going in the beginning!

    Like you, this book didn't much appeal to me. It had some good points but mostly I was just like "come'on kid -- get your act together!" Then I feel bad for saying/thinking that since I've not had a sibling die or dealt with that kind of loss!

    Still I think it's different reading this book as an adult versus being a teenager -- that's what I focused my review on --

    I think I would've enjoyed this book more if I had read it in middle school and high school. But now as an adult, I felt like the kid was lazy and lost. Which I feel sometimes too but I can pull myself out of it.

    Like you, I'm glad I read it. I can see why it's a "classic" but it's just not my kind of book. Let's read some chick-lit next time! :-)

  7. I love this book, but I admit that having first read it when I was 14 might have something to do with it. :)