Book review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: TBDAmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: July 16, 1951
Source: Purchased

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time‘s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read.

Sometimes I think it’s easier to write a negative review than it is to write a positive one. Don’t even get me started on a book I hated. I can talk for hours about everything that’s wrong with a book, but when it comes to a book I loved, I almost always draw a blank. I mean, how am I supposed to put into words everything that I loved about this book? I’ve reviewed close to 600 books over the years, but today, I seem to have forgotten how.

Maybe I should start by saying that I last read this book back in (probably) 2006 when I was a teenager with bad taste. I say “a teenager with bad taste” because, let’s be honest, I thought Twilight was the best thing I’d ever read and I was unimpressed with this book. Thankfully, Daniel asked me if I wanted to do a buddy re-read of The Catcher in the Rye and I said yes. It ended up being a great decision all around. I’d like to issue a formal apology to J.D. Salinger for all of the years I spent thinking I didn’t really like this book. I was wrong.

Why do I love Holden so much? I don’t remember thinking anything about him the first time, but he’s pretty much my favorite literary character ever right now. I love his sarcasm, I love his exaggerations, and I love how honest he is. I love how much he loves his sister. I love how he talks about Jane. I love how he sits down with a couple nuns in a train station and discusses Romeo and Juliet. All I want is to give him a hug and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

Some quotes: 

  • “I’m pretty sure he yelled ‘Good luck!’ at me. I hope not. I hope to hell not. I’d never yell ‘Good luck!’ at anybody. It sounds terrible, when you think about it.”
  • “He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you.”
  • “What I think is, you’re supposed to leave somebody alone if he’s at least being interesting and he’s getting all excited about something. I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.”
  • “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone.”
  • “People are mostly hot to have a discussion when you’re not.”
  • “Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

I don’t think there’s actually anything about this book that I didn’t like.

Have you read The Catcher in the Rye? Do you love it or hate it?
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