I read The Catcher in the Rye two years ago, and I’ll be honest, I did not enjoy it at all. I wasn’t in a bad mood when I slugged through the 230 or so pages that comprised the copy I had, I was hopeful actually. I’d met so many people through the years, both friends and mentors, who all highly recommended the novel to me, practically screaming about how relatable its character, Holden Caulfield was, and how seamlessly the story events played out, one after the other. So when I opened the novel, and started flipping through the first twenty pages or so, I was struck by how much I hated Holden. This feeling persisted throughout, and I think it really blinded me from noticing the nuances of the story. Each scene, I was just frustrated by how much of a child Holden was, cringing at each botched social interaction and never wanting to read the word “phony” ever again. By the time I finished the novel, I was a Catcher naysayer, any chance I had getting ready to point out its flaws. How this book about seemingly nothing became a classic, I couldn’t understand.
Then, about a week ago, I was browsing through my local public library, and I saw a copy of the book right there on the shelf in front of me. I was immediately overcome with a blinding hatred, and I immediately realized how foolish that was. Surely, I shouldn’t react that way towards a piece of literature. Especially towards a book that is typically so highly regarded by others. So right then and there, I took the book off the shelf, checked it out, and decided to give it another shot. Honestly, a lot has changed in my life since I had last read it. The first time I read through Catcher I was a high schooler, and now I’m going to be starting my third year of university. I’ve had a lot of life experiences in that time, and my ability to relate to certain deeper emotions has expanded vastly. With this in mind I sat down, brewed myself some tea, and gave the book another try. I’ve got to say, I’m so glad that I did.
First off, Catcher takes place in my all time favorite setting for any story, New York in the Winter. During my first time through, I took for granted the little time capsule Salinger (the author) built of New York. Little things slipped past me, like how young Holden really was to be walking around such a major city, and how alone he really was through the entirety of the novel. My second reading really had me envious about the simple, yet still uniquely New York pass times Holden has. Between ice skating at the park with his girl, going to see an old timey motion picture or play, walking down Broadway, heck, even small things like hopping in a yellow cab or making small talk with the elevator man, I envy and picture all of it. It’s all done so expertly in this book, and although it’s summer here in Arizona (so it’s triple digits) I had moments where I was so sucked in I was shivering in the cold with Holden. That’s pretty powerful.
Another thing I never noticed the first time was how sympathetic Holden actually is when you give him a chance. I’m not going to spoil the novel, but Holden’s gone through a lot by the time we meet him. Salinger does such a good job at underplaying what his character has gone through, that I actually missed a lot of it my first time through, and missed all of the horrible stuff that this poor kid has gone through. On top of that, even if I did catch certain elements, like a scene where Holden has a pervy encounter with an old teacher of his, they didn’t have the same resonance as this time around because I didn’t care about Holden nearly as much as I do now. Upon reflection, the book is perfectly paced, leaving you to constantly flip pages, hoping that everything turns out okay for this kid. Thankfully it does.
In a college course I took last year, one of my professors defined a “classic” as,
“Something everyone pretends to have seen or read, but hasn’t actually.”
Not only is this painfully true, but I think it fits The Catcher in the Rye pretty well. You can go your entire life without taking the time to let Holden tell you about his worst couple of days. You could assume that the novel is just a pointless story about nothing, where a privileged white kid roams New York, spending his family’s money while having a premature midlife crisis. You could get annoyed by the little things Holden does (as I did), like when he complains about how he hates movies, yet has seemingly seen every one and can (and does) explain the entire plot to you. If you feel this way though, I think you’d be missing the point. This novel really is worth giving a chance, as it approaches the subject of finding the balance between adulthood and the innocence of childhood better than anything else. After all these years, Holden feels incredibly original, and above all, real. If you haven’t read Catcher yet, or worse, are like I was and hated it the first time, I implore you to find a copy in whatever way you consume books in 2017, and plow through this fast, yet enjoyable read. Take your time to enjoy the nuance, the setting, and the masterfully written characters, and you’ll end up kicking yourself for not doing it sooner .
I normally don’t give books a second read, there’s so much to read out there that I typically find it a waste of time. That being said, after my positive (and borderline life-changing) experience with Catcher, I think I’m going to dedicate a blog every once in awhile to giving my impression on a book I either re-read or gave another chance. It’ll be a nice break from all the crazy politics I constantly take it upon myself to cover, and who knows, I might be able to turn one of my readers into a fan of a book that deserves a close read. If you’ve had this experience with any books recently, let me know in the comments below. I’m interested to see how many novels are classics or, you know, “classics”.