The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Adolescence is lousy…

😐 😐 😐

A rich, privileged teenage boy moans, whines and whinges for roughly forty-eight hours.

I had high hopes of this one. Either it would stun me by being wonderful and achieving that rare feat for a mid-twentieth century book of actually deserving its status as a classic, and I’d have the joy of writing a glowing review; or it would be as dire as I anticipated and I’d have the even greater fun of mocking it mercilessly.

Sadly, it’s neither. It’s merely a lengthy character sketch of a depressed teenager. Fine, but not scintillating fun, as anyone who has had to spend much time in the company of depressed (or even undepressed) teenage boys will know.*

It’s very well done. The character of Holden Caulfield feels believable and Salinger maintains his (annoying) voice without a blip throughout. It made me laugh – well, sorta smile, at least – several times and even made a tear spring to my eye… once. But mostly it bored me.

JD Salinger

I could, I suppose, chunter on about how it says something about the time of writing – like, for example, that it foreshadowed the beginning of the post-WW2 cultural upheavals, or that it was the era when authors began to mistake the parroting of verbally-challenged swearing for literary merit, or something. But that would be kinda phony, goddam** it, because really I don’t think it says anything terribly deep about anything much. Or else I was just too bored to notice.

Well, that’s a little unfair, maybe. I think it does say something about how rotten it is to be a teenage boy, especially when forced to deal with one of life’s tragedies. But I think it’s a bit sad (and perhaps typical of the then American obsession with psychoanalysis) that what seemed to me like Holden’s perfectly normal feelings and mini-rebellion were implied to be some form of mental illness. If so, then I guess we have to assume that being a teenager is a form of lunacy… hmm!

Yep… got nothing more to say about this one.

Book 19 of 90

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* That comment’s a bit phony – I worked with teenage boys for years, depressed and undepressed, and found them all far, far, more fun than poor Holden. And less whiny.

** That’s the way Holden spells “goddamn” – odd, isn’t it? Makes me think of some kind of weird matriarchal sheep deity…

The Queen of Sheepa by Will Bullas
Yes, there truly is an image of everything on the internet…

71 thoughts on “The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

  1. I remember reading this as a teenager and thinking ‘is that it?’ I asked my English teacher at the time what the point of it all was, that maybe it was an allegory or something, but no, it’s just about a kid’s trip to the city on its own.
    Maybe it was more shocking and ground-breaking at the time.

    • I was surprised at how unshocking it was. Even the swearing was so mild I couldn’t get up a nice sense of outrage about it. I had my poison pen all ready too – such a disappointment! I’ll need to try to find a really dire book now to make up for it… 😉

  2. Holden does have a pretty annoying narrative voice, and I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to many readers. I suppose it’s what the older sensibility behind that voice perceives that redeems it somewhat – but I agree, it’s not JDS’s finest work – that’s the short stories, IMO. As for that sanitised spelling of the mild swear word – just about sums up the repressed culture in which Holden was growing up. I worked with teens, too, and agree, adolescence isn’t an illness, just difficult. Like all rites of passage.

    • I started out finding the voice quite amusing but it wore thin pretty quickly, I felt. I did think it was pretty good at conveying the teenage boy persona, but I really felt it lacked something – narrative drive maybe. Even though it’s so short I struggled to get through it. If I can’t love a book, I’d rather hate it than just feel nothing about it. But I did admire his prose, so I’ll maybe try his short stories then – this is the only thing of his I’ve read so far, so I’m glad to hear that he’s worth persevering with…

  3. This one has been on my radar for years now, but I never understood the hype about it, and you just summed it up on your first paragraph! Good to know I’m not missing anything.

  4. Thank you!!!!!!!

    I absolutely hated this book. Nothing happens, the main character is annoying and makes very confusing decisions. I have no idea how it has a classic status in the 21st century as it does not have the timeless quality that so many other classics possess.

    • Haha! Exactly! I kept waiting for something to happen but nope! I must say that with a few exceptions I usually find “classics” from the 50s and 60s are a huge let-down – I guess they must have felt original back then, but they don’t now, and they’ve often got nothing else going for them. Even the swearing in this was too mild for me to get up a nice sense of outrage… 😉

  5. I related to it more when I was a self-absorbed teenager, but it’s not my favourite book about teens by any stretch of the imagination. You know what, I think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is much more fun!

    • Yes, I think I’d have enjoyed it more when I was a teen too, but now that I’m a *little* older it just didn’t have the desired effect. Haha! I’m delighted to say I’ve never seen it – one of the major advantages of being childfree… 😉

  6. Making an assumption here, but I’m guessing this book is only good for reading for the first time in one’s own teens. I did that and loved it, but I don’t think I’d even re-read it now!

    • I suspect you’re right – I might have thought it was more daring and shocking if I’d read it in my teens. But having had so much to do with teenage boys with real behavioural problems, it felt amazingly tame to me now…

    • I haven’t read the book, but I wonder if teens relate to the desire to be away, be sad, feel misunderstood. Since I haven’t read the book, I’ve thought about picking it up just to say I did–it’s a dark mark on my high school education to have not read it, right?–, but…. that’s the same logic bungee jumpers use!

      • I don’t know – I’ve said before I don’t really “get” YA reading. When I was a YA I didn’t really want to read about teens – I wanted to read about adults because that’s what I aspired to be. Even boring Holden was reading books about adults! I think my generation did the YA angst thing through music rather than books. Hahaha – yes, some books do feel like jumping off a cliff… 😉

  7. Not read this – & not about to start now:)
    I’m not sure I remember ‘teenage books’ when I was an actual teenager. We went from Chalet Stories to Agatha Christie & Alistair Maclean as they were already in the house (very rural & no library). On reflection, I don’t think I would have chosen teenage angst books anyway as there was enough of that in real life and reading was all about total escapism.

    • I was exactly the same – straight from Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie. I’m not sure I’d even have wanted to read books about teens when I was a teen – I wanted to be seen as an adult, so I wanted to read about adults. The whole YA thing rather baffles me, if I’m honest about it – especially since quite often the people who read most of them seem to be nearly as ancient as me… 😉

  8. You know, FictionFan, when my daughter was a teenager, she read this one for school, and she had much the same reaction to it that you did. As Marina Sofia says above, she related to it in some ways, but still… And I’ve never been that drawn into it, either. And I’ve read it at a couple of different times in my life – yup, same reaction. Yet, Holden is one of those enduring figures. Hmm…

    • That’s interesting, Margot, because I was wondering if I’d have felt differently about it as a teen. But more often than not when I re-read a book, I find my teen self and my adult self react in much the same way. The exception is usually when the attitudes have dated badly and I must say I think Holden still stands up in that sense – apart from the language, his inner thoughts could easily be of a boy of today. But I’m afraid that by itself wasn’t enough to maintain my attention…

  9. Fair points. Many adults seem to have a similar reaction to the book. Yet, it has evidently had a profound effect on many, especially the younger generation. I like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ but can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

    • Yes, it’s always difficult to put oneself back in time to feel how a book would have affected a reader of the time. I imagine I might have felt differently about it, but now it feels (to me) very mild and without much depth. Of course, that might be because later writers have used it as inspiration and gone further…

    • That’s interesting, because I was wondering if I’d have felt differently about it if I’d read it as a teen. Maybe I would if I’d been a teen at the time it was written, but it really feels to me like it lacks much depth – and teens already know what it feels like to be a teen! I’d be interested to hear your adult perspective if you do decide to read it again sometime…

      • Yes, I’ve often wondered that too – if teens at the time it was written got more out of it than dullness (surely they did?). Which makes me further wonder if we hold on to it as a “classic” just for the sake of it even though it may have lost its classic quality over time? I’m getting more attracted to the idea of re-reading it now…I will let you know if I take up the task. 🙂

        • Yes, please do! I think it’s one of the dangers of books being declared ‘classics’ too soon – I reckon it takes at least 100 years really to know whether a book is going to survive in the long-term.

  10. I read this when I was 15, and thought Holden would have been vastly improved by a good slap. What we now call “First World problems”.

  11. How I was fortunate enough to have missed this one baffles me … in a good way! Having raised a teenaged boy, I can attest to the fact that not all of them are whiny, depressed, or foul-mouthed!! Better bring out the chocolate to soothe the spirits.

    • Hear, hear, Debbie! I get fed up with the assumption in modern fiction that all kids are foul-mouthed drunks with problems! And most of the teenage boys I knew might have had real problems, but they were still more fun to be around than whiny Holden… 😉

  12. This is one of the only books I’ve ever read twice. I loved it the first time. In truth, I was probably too young to be reading it and just liked the idea that I was reading something with that sort of language that felt very adult. The second time I could not remember what it was that compelled me to read it again. I’ve actually thought about reading it a third time to see if I’d feel differently but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel motivated enough to actually pick it up again.

    • I’m always wary about re-visiting a book I loved as a child or teen – sometimes they hold up, but often they’re a big let-down. I kinda wish I’d read this one when I was young though – I don’t know if I’d have loved it, but I’d probably have been able to sympathise with poor, whiny Holden a bit more. Now I just want to tell him to grow up and stop complaining… 😉

  13. I read this years ago and can’t remember much about it now except that I really, really disliked it. I think I was about twenty at the time, so slightly past the target age, I suppose, but I don’t think it would have made a lot of difference if I’d been a few years younger.

    • Interesting how few people are saying they really loved it – most people seem to either have disliked it like you or been bored by it like me. It does make me wonder why some books become classics – I suspect it may depend on the whim of whoever decides a book should make it onto high school curriculums…

  14. Well, I was hoping for a more robust smackdown of this one, but this is acceptable, ha ha! I dimly remember this one from high school, and I think it’s probably more enjoyable if you’re closer to Holden’s age, maybe. So yeah, I think your “meh” review is spot-on, after all. Oh well, another Classics Club book complete anyway!

    • Hahaha – so was I, Laila! I had my poison pen sharpened and ready to go… 😉 Yes, I suspect I might have been able to sympathise with Holden more when I was his age, but at my age I just wanted to tell him to grow up and stop complaining! But at least it’s off the TBR… gotta be a good thing, right? 😉

  15. Oh what a shame. I loved it, when I read it first at around the target age, and have since read it twice more, getting different pleasures from it each time. The last was only 2 years ago, and sparked interesting discussions – some, like me, loving it then, and still, others……not.

    • I could admire the way he sustained Holden’s voice, but it just didn’t seem to have much depth, I felt. Though I can see that I might have felt differently if I’d read it as a teen, and once a book is loved than that gives an added layer to a later re-read all by itself…

    • I do find it odd why some books become classics – I suspect it might purely depend on whether someone adds them to school curriculum lists. But I’m afraid this one just didn’t seem to me to have enough depth to really be worthy of being called a classic…

    • I kinda wish I’d read it as a teenager – I suspect it would have appealed more. But now I really just wanted to slap poor whiny Holden upside the head… (I really missed out on that maternal gene big time… 😉 )

  16. Yaaay! This classic is off your list now. I read it when I was in my early 20’s and I remember being super moved then. Now that I have read your post, i want to reread the book and see how it will work with me now. 🙂

    • I do think it seems like age is a factor in many people’s reaction to this one. I kinda wish I’d read it when I was a teen to see if I’d have felt differently then. I’ll be intrigued to hear how you feel about it now if you do decide to re-read it… 😀

  17. Recently, over dinner with extended family, the idea of returning to teenagerhood came up and all the adults shuddered at the thought. Being a teenager is a kind of lunacy but you don’t realize it until years later.

  18. Well done for getting through it (although it’s your own fault, you know, for putting it on your Classics Club List in the first place and then compounding that by putting it on your spin list as well!). I can safely say I won’t be adding it to any list of mine, so thank you for that service.

    • Hahaha! It was my own fault but I had my arm twisted unfairly by a couple of people who told me it was good! Grrr – obviously they hate me! 😉 A wise decision – unless you ever want to be reminded why you don’t want to be a teenage boy…

  19. Well, it sounds like I missed the boat on this one. I should have read it when I was a whiny, depressed teen. Oh wait, I was never a whiny, depressed teen. Well, maybe a little whiny at times. 😉
    Glad to know it wasn’t ALL bad… just in case I do decide to read it someday. Or maybe I’ll just pass it on to my teenage son?

  20. I’ve never read this book, but it’s on my TBR. I’ve heard so many mixed things about this title, I don’t really have any desire to read it, but I will since it’s a classic.
    On another note – the artist Will Bullas (he does the sheep picture in this post) is one of my favorites 🙂 He does these wonderful duck prints. I used to always get his calendars for my office at work! They either made people smile or confused them. It was always interesting to see who liked them and who was just very puzzled by his art. 🙂

    • I only read it because it’s a classic too, and while I was seriously underwhelmed I’m still glad to tick it off my list.

      How interesting! I’d never heard of him – just picked the image up on a random search for sheep goddesses, as you do… 😉 I must go and look at more of his stuff…

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