If J.D. Salinger were alive today and I were to encounter him, the first thing that I would do is drop down to my knees and beg for forgiveness because I have forsaken him.
This might seem a little dramatic, but when I began to reread his classic novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” I was immediately apologetic for my behavior in my first creative writing class two semesters ago.
It was the first day of class and our professor, Michael Nye, strolled into class wearing an all-blue suit and looking like the James Bond of creative literature. Our first task was to go around the room and explain a little about ourselves, including our favorite work of fiction. After stumbling through my introduction, I told the class that my favorite novel was Catcher.
In most literary circles this is a pretty safe choice if you don’t want to be judged right out of the gate. If I had said, “My favorite novel is Twilight,” my professor probably would have figured me to be some goofball that loves vampire love stories that aren’t very well-written.
But here’s the thing: Professor Nye didn’t say or do anything. He just looked at me, as he did for every student. Now, normally when someone looks at you after you answer a question, it means that they’re expecting more from you. In my bumbling manner, I tried to explain how, “You know, I read it in high school and it was just the right time to read it for me.”
Professor Nye took a second after my statement, and said, “Don’t ever apologize for liking Salinger.”
And I won’t ever again.
I picked up my copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” a day before my family and I left for vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I figured that a sixteen-hour car ride meant I might as well bring along a little extra reading material. After finishing another novel (“John Dies at the End”), I dove into Catcher for my second time and immediately found myself immersed in Holden Caulfield’s world.
I won’t try to explain what the story’s about because I don’t really think it’s necessary at this point. It’s an American classic and that’s all that needs to be said. If you haven’t read it, then you should.
But I was worried about how I would interpret the story for my second go-around, because I had read on message boards that people enjoyed reading it when they were younger and hated it when they matured. They found Holden to be whiny and annoying and the story to be pointless. I assumed that this would be the case for myself as well, but turns out that, as Holden would say, all of these message board people are just phonies.
The first time that I read Catcher, I was a junior in high school and had maybe 5 friends total. Sure, I knew plenty of people, but I didn’t really spend a whole lot of time with anyone outside of my immediate group of friends. As a result, I connected with Holden’s me-against-the-world attitude. I understood his irrational dislike of other people, because I felt the exact same way.
And let me add that I feel like most high school kids feel this way at some point in their life. They feel like nobody quite understands them and for whatever reason they feel left out. I sure did, because I didn’t party or drink but maybe 3 times in 3 years. I’ve always told people, jokingly of course, that I dislike people until they give me a reason not to. It’s a cynical way to view the world but that’s how I felt.
The book is short, only 214 pages, and I found myself turning each page with a giddiness that I haven’t experienced since rereading Harry Potter. I haven’t felt a connection with another character like Holden ever before and probably never again.
The scary part about Holden Caulfield and Catcher is that I still connect with Holden, but in a very different way. After five years, I’ve learned to like people a lot more than I used to. Being in a fraternity forces you to get to know people and work with individuals that aren’t exactly like yourself. So in this way, I don’t connect with Holden like I used to.
One of the major themes in the novel is Holden’s reluctance to reach maturity. He’s 16 during the time of the story and is often told that he acts like he’s 13. Holden has a fixation on keeping children’s innocence from the adult world, and one could argue, in doing so he preoccupies himself with that as a way to deter himself from “growing up.”
I’ve written about this topic before and found it to be the theme that I connected most with on my second read-through. Honestly this is the most important theme in the novel, and originally I didn’t grasp it as well as I could have. Now that I’m older, I think that I can appreciate Catcher’s message in a way that a 17-year-old Drew couldn’t have.
I’m afraid to grow up. Not because of the money or the job, but because I don’t know what it’ll be like. All of my life I’ve only known what being a child is like. I’m 21 now and can legally drink, visit strip clubs, and vote for crappy politicians, but I don’t feel like an adult. The day that I’m sitting alone in an apartment with my stuff all boxed up and ready to be arranged – that’ll be the day that I feel like an adult.
After I finished reading Catcher, I made a promise to myself. Lately I’ve gone through some pretty life-altering changes that have left me with a level of uncertainty that is both frightening and exhilarating. With that being said, something felt right about rereading Catcher. I needed to know that I still connected with Holden, and because of that, I’ll be rereading Catcher every time I make a life-changing decision.
“The Catcher in the Rye” is the most human book that I’ve ever read. Yeah, I’ve read “The Grapes of Wrath” and loved what it said about human nature as well, but it didn’t connect with me in the way that Catcher has. It’s cliché to be in love with a book as timeless as Catcher, but I think that that’s one of the magical things about it. There’s 62 years of people that have read it and taken something from it that no movie, radio program, TV show, or other book could offer.
I have this really bad habit of imagining scenes from my life years in advance. I see myself getting my first job out of college, marrying a wife, having children, growing old, etc. All of these scenes are at their most vague in that they’re only storyboards taken from the earliest of screenplay drafts.
It’s terrible because I have the tendency to project these scenes onto the people in my life and can negatively affect friendships because real people will never fit exactly into anyone’s imagined roles. But lately I’ve uncovered a little more about these scenes that doesn’t have anything to do with real people. I see myself with a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” in every one of these scenarios.
The beauty of a work of fiction is that the characters in it will always exist in your mind exactly how you want them to. You can’t project certain roles onto them and have it ruin or change your relationship with them, unless of course you completely misread the book.
Relationships change and they end. People start to think differently, act differently, smell differently, etc. There’s beauty in knowing that you can pick something up five years later, despite it being as completely fictional, and still have a connection that is stronger than anything else you know.
And I can promise you right now that I’ll always love it.