Good Evening my dears,
Today I thought that I might try a slightly different style of post than I usually write. I'm a little bit nervous about it! Still, books have always been a big part of my life and after reading a discussion on certain authors a few days ago it set me to thinking about one of the specific books that kept popping up.
That book was 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D Salinger.
One of the things that I always find very interesting about this book is that it totally divides it's audience. People either really, really love it or really, really hate it. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground, it doesn't inspire like so much as adoration, inspiration or pure, acidic hatred.
It is also one of those books that almost everybody seems to have read. It has quite a reputation as a 'hipster' favourite which I think creates it's own prejudices and disdain even in those who haven't read it.
The thing I'm particularly interested in is listening to people talk about how they once adored the book and now hate it, or can't understand how they could ever love it so much. More than the people who always loved it and the people who always hated it, I'm really intrigued by the reasons that people express for why they once loved it and now don't. It got me to thinking, is 'The Catcher in the Rye' a Certain Time & Place kind of book?
I first read 'Catcher' when I was fifteen years old. It was our required reading book in my English Literature class and we studied it for pretty much the entire year. My copy was the one above and it was covered in pen, scribbles in all the margins, underlining, highlighting, my thoughts running alongside the text. At that point we were still reading passages out loud in class and 'Catcher' fell mostly to me, I was always happy to read it (I read most of 'Jane Eyre' too and played the part of Rita in the play 'Educating Rita' rather excitedly). Most of my classmates at that time fell into the 'I really don't care' catagory, I'm not sure how many people really cared about the book, I wonder how many of them loved it or hated it. I wonder how many of them didn't even hear the words.
I was one of those people that adored the book. I remember as I was reading the feeling of absolute solidarity that I felt with Holden Caulfield, I identified with his hatred of 'phoniness', I felt like just as much of an outsider as he did. I remember the passage where he talks about catching the children falling off the edge of the cliff and feeling as though somebody had looked right into my heart and seen my own feelings about growing up, the fear, the desperate clinging to innocence, to childhood. I cried when he was trying to find somebody to tell him where the ducks went in the winter, did someone come and round them up? I cried again as Holden watched his little sister on the carousel.
Fifteen is a really strange, painful age. You're neither here nor there, you're not a kid but you're not an adult and you really have no idea what you're doing yet. You want to assert yourself on the world, on everyone around you, you want to be able to say 'this is who I am' and yet you don't even know who that person really is yet. You're not even the only one, you're surrounded by hundreds of people all trying to figure out the answer to that question and every one of you is refusing to admit that you don't know. I think for me, and for the other people who love 'Catcher' so much, reading it somehow makes you feel as though you're being spoken to directly, just you. Someone is sharing their secrets with you, someone who has so much disdain for the world of the 'phonies' and because you've been let in you become one of the good people, the truthful people, real. I think 'Catcher' really expresses that acknowledgement we want at that age, when we're stuck between one thing and the other and all we want is somebody to notice us and tell us 'I get it!'.
It seems that 'Catcher' therefore falls into that very specific category of books that are dangerous to reread. You loved them so much, they made your heart buzz, what if you don't feel like that anymore? The feeling of rereading something and not loving it as much as you once did is a painful thing, a feeling you almost think can't possibly be caused by words and ink printed onto paper.
I wonder if the reason why this is so common with this specific book is that it's a Certain Time and Place book. When you first read it everything was different, especially if you read it when you were a teenager. I don't think you have to have been a teenager when you first read it though, I think that Certain Time and Place can be found at any age. The world of Holden is one that, for me, you're either in or you're not. You never really find the way in and you never really find the way out, it's just that one day you're there and then one day you look up and you're not anymore. What you connected with so much somehow seems less special, it's not about you anymore, you feel kind of ridiculous for how intensely it touched you whilst also feeling deeply sad that it doesn't touch you quite so strongly anymore.
For me, I wonder if it's because we change. We change so much, all the time, every day we're changing a little bit until we've accumulated so much change we can't quite see the whole road back to where we were. So much of 'Catcher' is focused on change, on fighting it, on being afraid of it, that going back to it when you've changed so much has a massive effect on how you feel about it. Seeing Holden just as he always was seems somehow wrong, as though this person you connected with so strongly should have somehow grown alongside you. He should know more now, he should be more knowledgeable about the world but he's not, he's just a kid. He should be a grown up. After all you were the same once upon a time, it feels wrong that you shouldn't be the same now. Holden is one of those characters that feels so real you start to forget he doesn't even exist, he never did. Some part of you almost believes he must be out there somewhere.
The reaction people have to 'Catcher' and specifically to Holden makes the book special to me in a totally different way. When I was young it was special because it was a mirror, it was an affirmation that I wasn't alone. Now it's special because it reflects it's message so well, in a way that so many books don't. For me, 'Catcher' is about change and everything about it and it's influence is about change as well. Holden can't escape change and neither can we and our feelings towards him and his story perfectly reflect that.
Have you read 'Catcher'? How do you feel about it?