Book 78 – The Catcher in the Rye

Book – The Catcher in the Rye
Author – JD Salinger
Year – 1951
Genre – Classic
Recommended to me by Emma Head and Alex Campbell

The only thing I really knew about The Catcher in the Rye is that it was famously often found to be a major part of the lives of many murderers.  The man who attempted to kill Ronald Reagan was a big fan, and Mark Chapman – the killer of John Lennon – had a copy of the book on him when he committed the murder.  I also knew that it is a highly controversial book that has had more than its fair share of bans, particularly in ban-happy America.  With that in mind, I was expecting to find a very dark and disturbing book.  In reality however, it is nothing of the kind.

The book is written from the point of view of Holden Caulfield who has just been thrown out of his school for failing all of his subjects except for English.  He decides to return to New York before his parents find out, but instead of going home, he spends three days living in the city, drinking, smoking and meeting new people.

From that, I am sure you can deduce that the book is still not all sweetness and light.  Holden spends a lot of time talking about how he feels, and he gets very annoyed about a lot of things that would not bother most people, but he is overall a pretty polite and pleasant person.  This means that whilst we see his inner thoughts and realise his not so happy outlook, for all intents and purposes he, is often seen as pretty happy go lucky.  This is where the book truly comes into its own, and probably the reason that it is still so popular today.  Despite being nearly sixty years old, the book perfectly encapsulates the ‘angst’ that teenagers still feel today.  Holden has identity issues and seems on the edge of a breakdown for the entirety of the book, but all in a way that seems instantly recognisable to readers.  So many times, the book gives you ‘I feel like that sometimes’ moments, and the idea of people relating to the book seems very easy.

One thing that I particularly like about the writing of the book is an incredibly simple idea that I can’t believe I have never seen anywhere else – particularly in plays.  The idea of italicising a word to give it emphasis is common in literature, but in The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger sometimes uses it to emphasise just a syllable; for instance “They can’t just ignore it”.  By telling the reader where the stress is in the sentence, the meaning of the sentence is nowhere near as open to interpretation, and it manages to work without ever breaking the flow of the reading.  You barely even notice it after a while, but the emphasis remains.  This would be such a useful thing to do in a play – I have seen so many performers struggle over a particular line simply because by moving the stress, the meaning has changed – and when I finally get around to writing my magnum opus of a play, I shall try and incorporate this technique.

I genuinely feel that I could keep writing about this book for hours, and this is probably why it is so popular as an English Literature text.  I only wish that I had found it earlier; despite being written for adults, it is certainly a book which I feel would be best appreciated by readers in their mid teens.  It is just a shame that it is the only full novel that JD Salinger ever wrote.  It might not be the highest mark that I have awarded a book this year, but it is possibly the book that I would most recommend everybody to read.  A true classic that I think will live on for a great many more years.


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