“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
2017 Reading Challenge — Book 4: A Classic Novel
I’ve spent the last decade+ wondering how I managed never to have read this book. It ranks high on just about every list of the “best English novels” (including this one, this one, and this one) I come across, and has been claimed as one of the most influential books by thinkers as varied as Bill Gates and George H. W. Bush. So it seemed as though I had been missing something.
Considering it is apparently one of the most widely-read and reviewed novels in America, it’s difficult to find anything to say that hasn’t already been said. I will, however, say that I didn’t enjoy it… not, at least, in the sense that I enjoy most good novels. But this isn’t like most novels.
I feel that I lack the proper context to truly appreciate Salinger’s work. It’s been called a “quintessential work of teenage angst,” and yet I never really experienced the type of angst which Holden Caulfield narrates—though I have certainly seen it others. I can also recognize how revolutionary and counter-cultural this book must have been when published in 1951. Yet sadly, the caustic language no longer shocks us, while weak & conflicted characters, meandering stories, and meaningless details became far more common in popular culture with the rise of postmodernism, perhaps itself indicative of the influence of this book.
So no, I didn’t particularly “like” The Catcher in the Rye. It was, however, an interesting look into the mind of a character with whom a great deal of readers identify. By trying to understand Holden Caulfield, I feel like I may also better understand the mind of those who long for meaning but have no idea where to find it. And really, that’s most people.
I believe there is within each person a deep, unquenchable desire for a “catcher”—for a protector and a return to innocence. And, like Holden, most of us at one point in our lives have, at some point, desired to view ourselves in that role—the role of a hero—only to realize that it is we ourselves who must be caught. But unlike Holden, I know that there is a hero who offers strength and protection, able to hold me up (Isaiah 41:10) and never let me go (John 10:28-29).
This is why I have a general distaste for postmodern art and literature (J.D. Salinger has been called “the pre-postmodernist“). There is no hope! I crave stories of redemption and deliverance, not out of a sappy desire for a “happy ending,” but because these are the stories which are true! As “realistic” as Salinger’s portrayal may be of the mind of so many who search for something with no real hope of ever finding it, I’d much rather read stories which promise rewards for perseverance, integrity, and virtue, and which give hope of the ultimate triumph of good over evil (or over meaninglessness, if you prefer). They may be “fantastic,” but they portray things which are true about the real world in which we live.
It’s difficult to recommend The Catcher in the Rye, though I’m not sorry I read it. I believe there is value in reading books which are influential, even if I don’t think their influence has necessarily been such a good thing. Because that influence is also a real part of the world in which we live. It’s a world full of broken people who can relate to Holden Caulfield in a way that I can’t. May the Lord use this book to help me better relate to those around me, and to offer them hope of a better way.