Sep 28, 2010

[Books] The Catcher In The Rye

The Catcher In The RyeIn line with this year's Banned Books Week, I figured it would be appropriate to review a title from the 2009 list of Most Challenged Books. While I haven't read some of the newer ones, at the very least I have read this one, particularly because it was required in school.

That's one of the key things that tend to drive books to become challenged by more conservative or narrow-minded parents - since the books become required reading, it's the only time they draw the attention of everyone. Had these books not been noticed in such a manner, perhaps they would have avoided such persecution, or whatever you want to call this. In fact, the Office of Intellectual Freedom has determined that at least 46 out of the Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (as per Radcliffe Publishing Course) have been challenged repeatedly over the years. Shows what some people know.

I didn't exactly love every single book I was required to read in school, especially back in elementary and high school. However this one certainly stood out and I have to admit that I don't regret reading it at all now. It's definitely the kind of book that resonates on several levels with teenagers around the world and I can go as far as saying you're missing a significant part of your life should you fail to get a chance to read it.

The Catcher in the RyeImage via WikipediaThe Catcher In The Rye was written in 1951 by J.D. Salinger. The book was not originally meant for teenagers, but it eventually found its way into their hands and eventually their hearts and minds as well.

At the center of the book is the now infamous Holden Caufield - a bit of a rebellious teen and our narrator of the story. He gets expelled from Pencey (athough this doesn't seem to matter to him) and so he packs up his things and goes on a short trip to New York City. Avoiding his parents, he checks into the less than ideal Edmont Hotel and from there he spends a night on the town, hires a prostitute if only to be able to talk to her and then eventually gets beat up by her pimp when she tries to con him for more money.

His odd little journey of self discovery or perhaps just meaningless wandering. He stays in New York for only a few days but makes sure to sneak into his parent's place while they're away if only to visit his sister Phoebe. She admires him and perhaps even adores him and ironically he admires her in turn. This is when he expresses his fantasy of sorts to be a catcher in the rye - a man whose role is to prevent children from accidentally wandering off a cliff obscured by the rye field.

The language of the book may seem a tad dated with terms like "phony" with a very casual style that does read like something a teenager would actually say. And yet it doesn't feel like an old book per se - the language still works and it does become quite riveting. As much as the book seems to waste a lot of time with Holden's disjointed thoughts, in the end it makes sense. Plus even the seemingly useless moments turn out to be very relevant and important indeed once you look past the surface imagery.

I can understand why this book seems so unsettling to some. The book does present some very strong themes such as prostitution, what we consider to be profane language and the fact that Holden Caufield is hardly the kind of guy you'd want your kids to be hanging out with. But beyond that image, he does have a lot of good things to bring to the table and the kind of deep introspection that a lot of teenagers share yet hardly wish to show to the world. In this regard Salinger did a tremendous job of creating such a full-fleshed character such as Holden.

By now the book is full ingrained into popular culture. We've seen it referenced in many different books, movies and other creative ventures. Schools and universities around the world regularly take time to discuss its merits and its possible interpretations and meaning and many popular figures proudly proclaim their love for the book. And I can't blame them - until today I make sure to keep a copy of the book as part of my library - something I intend to revisit periodically in the years to come.

The Catcher In The Rye is truly a classic novel of our times and one that should be read by everyone and not denied due to ignorance or short-sightedness. It gets 5 carousel rides out of a possible 5.

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