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The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951) 5107

[Family and Self: Classics/Young Adult/Coming of Age]

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

It seems the fact that I’m tackling my reading challenge using goodreads.com statistics has meant that all these great novels I’m reading are in fact great American novels. Which is maybe why I didn’t love The Catcher in the Rye. I know that writing a book off because the writing is essentially an erratic and colloquial stream of thought seems like a bit of a bigoted criticism, but let me explain. I’m not saying that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t a great book. In fact this is what Julian Evans says in his Guardian article ‘the best existentialist fiction’:

“The greatest of all the American existentialists remains JD Salinger’s Holden Caulfield (and possibly Salinger himself, in his violent retreat from publicity). The secret of Holden’s quest comes early on in The Catcher in the Rye, in an interview with Mr Spencer, his history teacher. “All of a sudden then, I wanted to get the hell out of the room. I could feel a terrific lecture coming on.” He doesn’t need a lecture; he needs to explain himself to himself far away from Pencey Prep. Still the novel’s most savourable delight is not the story but the tone: restrainedly slangy, a very private voice of stoic comedy, as surprisingly fresh as ever.”

I’m not saying I don’t relate to Holden Caulfield and his irrational fear of growing up, because I have the exact same fear and I’m like, 6 years older than him. It’s just that I love beautiful writing. In a book, I need warmth. I’m not saying I need happiness – because when has great literature ever been happy – but I need catharsis, and I don’t feel The Catcher in the Rye offers that.

“Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”