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by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

July 24, 2018

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger #GreatReadPBS

by Donna Huber 

That was one long paragraph! Have you read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger? I thought I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I looked in my "box of literature" and discovered it wasn't on the list (I sometimes confuse it with Catch-22, which was on my list). The Catcher in the Rye is one of 100 books nominated for The Great American Read which is being hosted by PBS.
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My thoughts...

I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, but as someone mentioned in the Facebook thread, it isn't terribly memorable. In a number of ways, it reminded me of A Separate Peace by John Knowles (another Great American Read). I'm wondering if it wasn't assigned reading in high school because parents would have been upset. I mean, some parents wouldn't let their kids read Tess of the D'Urbervilles because of the rape scene. And The Catcher in the Rye is pretty sexual (though no actual sex is in the book).

I was a pretty naive kid, so I'm not sure if I would have caught some of the inferences that are made in the story. And because of what is being implied would have probably been why parents in my school would have been upset about their kid reading it.

What I liked most about the book is probably not what I was supposed to get out it. I enjoyed it from a historical perspective - the social context and language used as compared to how the story would be told today really interested me.

It was a surprisingly easy read for a classic. The writing level felt really low compared to today's young adult books. It made it a quick read.

Buy The Catcher in the Rye at Amazon

Some background information...

The Catcher in the Rye was published in novel form in 1951. However, it was first published as a serial in 1945 - 1946. Unlike many of the classics I've read, this book definitely felt like a young adult novel. It is probably one of the first books to be targeted at young adults. If you follow us on Facebook, you may have seen the video I posted last month from It's Lit about the rise of young adult literature.

Before WWII, there wasn't really anything focused on teens. But the changing culture in the U.S. whereas teens had more independence (and a car) made them a target audience for many industries including the publishing industry.

The title source...

The title is based on a misquote Holden makes of a poem by Robert Burns, "If a body catch a body comin' through the rye". The actual line is "If a body meet a body coming through the rye," which his younger sister Pheobe corrects. Do you know this poem? I didn't so I looked it up, but first, it's interesting to see Holden's interpretation from the misquote.

"I thought it was "If a body catch a body.'" I said. "Anyway, I keep picturing all 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." p. 191

Even though Holden misquotes it, I think the poem is kind of apropos for the book. Written in 1782, it is full of sexual imagery.

"O, Jenny's a' wet, poor body, / Jenny's seldom dry"
"If a body meet a body / Comin' through the rye, / If a body kiss a body / Need a body cry?"

According to Wikipedia, an alternate, more explicit, version of this poem exists.

Throughout the novel, Holden is obsessed with sex though he says he's a virgin which isn't that surprising given the inferences made in the story. He meets a former classmate at a bar one night for an "intellectual" (that's the word Holden uses) conversation and all Holden wants to talk about is the classmate's sex life.

Other observations on the text...

I usually take note when an author used the same word over and over again. I usually find it kind of annoying in contemporary novels. I don't know if it is because The Catcher in the Rye is a classic or because it is told in 1st person, it didn't annoy me as much. Instead, I wondered if the overuse was to highlight the word and it had a deeper meaning.

Holden uses the word crumby a lot, particularly in the first part of the book. At first, I thought it was supposed to be crumbly. I know that adverbs are often frowned upon in novels today, so I wonder if it was a way to avoid using an adverb. But then it was used in a way that didn't make sense as crumbly. My next guess was that it was a typo and it should be crummy. So I looked it up and according to the dictionary, crumby can be an alternative spelling of crummy. For those who are curious about word usage and word origins, this could be a fun rabbit trail.

Holden also uses the word phony a lot. In this case, I do believe there is an underlining meaning to it. Just about everyone is a phony according to Holden and he can't stand phonies. He uses it in the opening paragraph to describe his brother because he has gone to Hollywood to write movie scripts. You know how a person is more critical of a trait in others, that they also possess (even if the person doesn't recognize the trait in themselves they subconsciously are aware of it). I think this is what is happening with Holden.

There are a number of symbols, probably most notably the hunting cap which is mentioned over and over again. Holden is also obsessed with the duck at the Central Park lagoon. He wants to know what happens to them in the winter. He thinks perhaps a truck comes by and rounds them up each winter. I kind of wondered what they taught in his science classes if he didn't get migration. Or perhaps they aren't migratory birds but ducks maintained by the Central Park Zoo.

While largely the story could be occurring in the present day, there is one scene that had me saying. we don't live in that time anymore.

"There were a few kids around, skating and all, and two boys were playing Flys Up with a soft ball, but no Phoebe. I saw one kid about her age, though, sitting on a bench all by herself, tightening her skate. I thought maybe she might know Phoebe and could tell me where she was or something, so I went over and sat down next to her and asked her, "Do you know Phoebe Caulfield, by any chance?"

"Who?" she said. All she had on was jeans and about twenty sweaters. you could tell her mother made them for her, because they were lumpy as hell.

"Phoebe Caulfield. She lives on Seventy-first Street. She's in the fourth grade, over at --"

"You know Phoebe?"

"Yeah, I"m her brother. You know where she is?'

...the conversation continues for a bit...

She was having a helluva time tightening her skate. She didn't have any gloves or anything and her hands were all red and cold. I gave her a hand with it. Boy, I hadn't had a skate key in my hand for years. It didn't feel funny though. You could put a skate key in my hand fifty years from now, in pitch dark, and I'd still know what it is. She thanked me and all when I had it tightened for her. She was a very nice, polite little kid. pgs 132 - 133

I don't know if it was because I was already finding Holden a bit creepy, but this scene kind of scream "stranger danger" to me. Today, we would probably be suspicious of Holden in this scene. Though he is 16 he constantly says people think he is older and we do see him being served alcohol a couple of times.

Is it The Great American Read?

Is The Catcher in the Rye getting your vote for The Great American Read? While I'm glad I read it, and I can see why it was nominated, it is not getting my vote. I think there are more worthy candidates. (I compared it to A Separate Peace, which I loved, but it's not getting my vote either).

However, I think it is worth the read if you haven't read it yet.

See other Great American Reads we've covered.
Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. I didn't read this book when I was young...but I did read it after I started blogging. I was fascinated by what I had learned about J.D. Salinger and his reclusive ways. His brief connection to one of my favorite authors, Joyce Maynard, also piqued my curiosity.

    Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: “THE DATE”

  2. The Catcher in the Rye is one of those books I keep meaning to read - and never get round to it. I know the poem though.

  3. I read this book when I was young. I think I was in a J. D. Salinger binge and read most of his books in a lump. This week I am featuring A Double Life by Flynn Berry. Happy reading!

  4. I read this book in college. The professor had us reading books that depicted adolescence. I probably wouldn't vote it up as the Great American Read either. This week I'm featuring an urban fantasy book. My Teaser

  5. I haven't read this although I've had a print copy for years.

  6. This is a big old hole in my reading - because I haven't read it! I think I need to fix that one sometime soon... My TT this week is a colony world adventure - I haven't yet read a Baldacci book - and this quote makes me think that is an omission I need to fix - thank you for sharing. My TT this week is industrial unrest on a colony world...

  7. I read this at school, I thought I'd added it to my Classic Club reads but it appears not!

  8. I read this book a while back, but would love to read it again, especially now, after reading your thoughts.

    Here is mine: I'm late posting today.

  9. I read this one in my younger days, but it's a distant memory. I don't remember very much.

    1. I don't think it is a very memorable book. I couldn't remember how it ended just a couple of days after finishing it.

  10. It has been awhile since I've reread this book.