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Books: The Catcher in the Rye
Saturday, 2006 July 1 - 2:23 pm
The first in my "I'm finally getting around to reading this book" series.

I'd never read The Catcher in the Rye until now.

I knew that Mark David Chapman (John Lennon's assassin) and John Hinckley (the guy who shot President Reagan) were obsessed with the book. I'd heard the rumors that the government would put you on a watch list if you bought the book. And I saw the movie "The Good Girl", which was apparently heavily influenced by this book. So I figured it was one of those iconic books I really should read.

The book is told from the perspective of a teenager named Holden Caulfield, who is disaffected (to put it mildly). Having been kicked out of yet another school for failing his classes (not because he's unintelligent; he's just uninterested), he takes off to drift around the city, desperately trying to find someone he can identify with, only to run into one "phony" after another.

It's an engrossing read, but at times difficult because it's so cynical. Listening to Holden's narration in my head, I could hear the voices of people I've known: people who would say that everyone else in the world was somehow a loser or an idiot, people whose negativity tended to suck the life out of me. Holden is the embodiment of teenage angst. He's a character that could just have easily existed in the 1980s as the 1950s. It's the "nobody understands me" syndrome that I'm sure everyone has had a taste of at some point in their lives.

In a lot of ways, you know Holden is right. You know that the negative things he sees in the world are real. You just wish that he could find something redeeming that he can connect to. And the book is compelling for that reason: you read it, turning each page to see if he'll finally find that raison d'etre that will break his cynicism.

Does he find it? Well, I'm not gonna spoil the ending for you, in case you haven't read it.

The book generated some controversy for its graphic language, its heavy emphasis on drinking, and its references to prostitution. Most of these things would seem pretty tame nowadays, but still enough to raise some eyebrows among parents of high school English students. For me, I found it thrilling that the language and subjects were so gritty and honest. This could have turned into a watered-down morality tale, but it didn't.

This is truly a classic book. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Next up: Flowers for Algernon.

Rating: 5 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: booksreviews

Comments

Comment #1 from Sabrina (Guest)
2006 Jul 2 - 9:05 am : #
Well, I have never cared for Catcher but Flowers for Algernon is a book I can only reread every few years. Great book but hard for me on so many levels. Enjoy it.

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