J. D. Salinger died yesterday. There was some talk in my Twitter stream about “the book”, and some people admitting they didn’t like it, or didn’t get it, or didn’t read it.
I read The Catcher in the Rye in high school as part of my English class. Required reading, but as I pretty much read anything I can get my hands on anyway, the ‘required’ part didn’t set me back much. I think I re-read it, at least once, in college on my own.
And both times, I got Holden Caulfield. I identified with his disaffected brand of angsty teenager-hood, with his disdain of the “phonies”. Plus, I loved the vulnerability in the vision for himself as the character that gives the novel its name.
“‘Anyway, I keep picturing these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean, except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.'”
— Holden Caulfield, Catcher in the Rye
But the “conversation” on Twitter reminded me that sometimes books with teens as their central characters don’t do well (or sit well) with adults. Think about Bella in Twilight. If I had read Twilight when I was 15, I would have loved it (I think). I could barely finish the book when I first read it a couple years ago, and I didn’t read any other books in the saga. Of course, on the other side of that, there are J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. If someone suggested to me that Potter were just a whingey teen, I would leap to his defense — because I loved the books (epic battle between good and evil, the power of love! yadda, yadda, yadda). Bella made me roll my eyes, and who is to say that Holden won’t do the same if I decide to re-read Catcher.
And as much I admired Salinger’s sparse fiction and realistic characters, I didn’t admire the man much. He was quite an oddball.
But he left a lasting legacy: Holden, the Glass family, Joyce Maynard. And that’s something to think about, at least.
RIP, J. D.