Saturday, March 14, 2009

If a Body Catch a Body Comin’ Through the Rye

In high school and college, The Catcher in the Rye and The Stranger were my favorite books. They lent themselves perfectly to the whole goth/punk phase I went through, and I read them probably more than a half-dozen times each in that four or five year period. But I haven’t touched either book in a good 15 years, and have been wanting to for a while now. Unfortunately, since moving to the new house a few years ago, our books have remained in dozens of boxes in the basement (and will continue to stay there until we get the new bookcases built and installed this spring). But I finally couldn’t wait any longer. I requested Catcher from the library and read it last week, and I picked up Albert Camus’ The Stranger when I dropped Catcher off yesterday.

I have to say, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye holds up. It holds up masterfully.

What’s amazing is the range of this now 50-plus year old book. It has the ability to speak directly to adolescence, but offers a completely new set of insights and enjoyment to my adult eye. Unreliable narrator Holden Caulfield corrects another boy at his school when referring to Holden’s new red hunting hat: “‘This is a people shooting hat,’ I said. ‘I shoot people in this hat.’” There are all sorts of new and different implications to the hat, that line, and its symbolism when refracted through a post-Columbine, post-millennial, post-9/11 prism. But to only look at the book from that perspective would be simplistic, short-changing yourself from the rich symbolism and texture of the story. There is so much in this book that I never noticed before, or maybe couldn’t notice before because of where I was in my life and the limitations of my life experience.

I was a creative writing major in college, but I have never had to read either of these books for a class. Interestingly, my wife, who has dual undergraduate degrees in English and French, has never read either of these books for pleasure, only for classroom assignments in college. I’d be curious to know her perspective on these books if she were to pick them up again now and give them another read – free from exegesis, because they still have the power to move me.

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