I spent a fair bit of time reading today, and was able to finish The Catcher in the Rye. What a great book. I loved it when I read it over ten years ago, and that still holds true. It's the story of Holden Caulfield, who’s been kicked out of yet another boarding school. Instead of sticking around for the last few days of classes until Christmas break, Caulfield decides to head to nearby New York, for a few days of R&R before breaking the news to his parents.
In addition to a great, or rather, an entertaining story, the main character is very likeable. Half the time I found myself thinking how similar I was to Holden Caulfield; and especially how similar I was when I was the same age. Thinking I was more mature or smarter than reality. Come to think of it, I still think that, but that’s another issue altogether. Caulfield talks about having a few drinks, or making time with a girl, or getting a job. All areas he believes himself to be an expert, but really areas he doesn’t have the faintest clue about. Take for instance when he decides to get himself a prostitute, ready to “give her the business.” But at the sight of the young girl removing her dress, Caulfield becomes scared, ends up handing over more money that he’d agreed on to the pimp, and is left in his hotel room, crying and alone; admitting to the reader he’s a actually a virgin.
Like most kids his age, Caulfield often feels as if the world is against him. His teachers, his parents, taxi drivers and bartenders, they’re all against him. Nothing but a bunch of “phonies” he’d tell you, all trying to keep him down. He sits down in a lounge, but the waiter won’t serve him any drinks; because he’s 16. He wonders aloud how he’s supposed to handle a phony joint like this, sober. His teachers are all phonies, teaching him things he doesn’t feel he’ll ever need to know. He can’t be interested in such phony material. I mean who really uses algebra? If I had a nickel for every time that went through my head when I was in school…
But through these adventures, or misadventures, it is nearly impossible not to become sympathetic to his foibles, and find yourself cheering for him through all he encounters. After all, he’s just a good kid who’s a little messed up, and he’s got his whole life ahead of him.
One of the things I like the most about this book is the way it is told. All in the first person, the author is speaking to the reader, as if someone is sitting there telling you a story. The language used is laid back and informal, almost as if it is exactly what is going through the main characters head. He see things or events, and gets side tracked, telling stories that happen to pop into his head. Maybe it’s the familiarity that makes it so appealing. The way Caulfield talks about different people, or they way his thought process works, seem so realistic, and so understandable. It’s a perfect book to be reminded of one's youth, and escape to that simpler time in life.
Time Magazine’s original review from July 16th, 1951 can be found here.
Next up is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.