When I composed my list of books for my 50 Classics Project, I intentionally left several books on the list which I remembered not enjoying. I did so for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to see if my opinion of them would change after so long. Also, I wanted to acknowledge that a book could still be a classic even if I disliked it. The first book on my list to fall into this category is definitely J.D. Salinger’s, The Catcher in the Rye. At the risk of losing the literary respect of a few people, I’m going to say that I frankly did not enjoy it. In fact, I found it a tedious chore to complete. Without further preface, the rant…
I’m not entirely sure which factored into my dislike more, Salinger’s choice of writing style or my utter contempt for the main character, Holden Caulfield.
Salinger’s writing style seems to me to attempt to capture teen angst with an incredibly patronizing exaggeration of teen emotions, habits and expression. One the reasons I disliked this book in high school was precisely this; I felt insulted and stereotyped. Using “goddamn” instead of a period after every other sentence, modifying every third noun with “crummy” and showing emphasis every fourth paragraph with “I really mean it”, didn’t capture the coming of age drama for me, but merely made the novel tedious. Yes, yes, I know that Salinger’s fans will say these mechanisms were “bold” but I think they being far too generous.
If he were alive (and entirely real) today, Holden Caulfield would probably be an avid MySpace blogger. His laundry list of griefs with the world, short sightedness, hypocrisies and outright naivety are almost indistinguishable from the stream of posts one finds there. I find him totally unsympathetic and uncompelling. In short, I he’s a “phony”. :-)
Now, in grudging defense of The Catcher in the Rye I do understand that Holden has been through a lot and is in an often troubling stage in a young person’s life. But balancing that with his reactions, choices, treatment of others and attitude, the best I can summon is a modest relief that he finds his way to treatment at the novel’s end.
If Holden found his whiny self in my other current book, I, Claudius (which I’m enjoying immensely, thank you very much), I’m Livia would know how to straighten him out. :-)