Monday, May 26, 2008

WORD: Reading Catcher in the Rye

by Gabrielle Linnell

I hadn't read Catcher in the Rye before this week. Although I've had a classical education (frequented by The Republic and The Faery Queene) and although I spend most of my time reading YA lit (half of which seems to be coming-of-age), I never read Salinger's masterpiece. Catcher is called the coming-of-age novel. Writer's Digest does a regular feature on debut authors, and often list particular influences: Salinger is more likely to be on there than anybody. And when I was at a Christian school my English teacher said she would never teach the novel, because of certain lewd parts.

So what is this book? It offends, it is a virtual textbook for style, it is a legend and leader of YA literature, it is an inspiration to countless people, it is a classic.

I'm ashamed to say I had almost no idea what it was about before I read it as a homework assignment. I soon figured out that it was told from the point of view of Holden Caulfield, a male teenager who was just kicked out of another prep school, in America after World War II. The best feature of the book was his voice. Holden tells you a story the way your best friend tells you a story, with interruptions and color and witticisms and sadness. Although Holden would be a grandfather today, the teens in my class identify with him. He sounds like a teenager.

For me, reading this book is important because so many YA authors look to it as a standard for the genre. It covers awkwardness, sexuality, identity, truth, hypocrisy: all themes that are fully discussed today in YA books like Avi's Nothing But the Truth, Meyer's Twilight, Garfinkle's Storky: How I Lost the Name and Got the Girl. Did Salinger start the conversation? by no means. Did he influence it? Of course.

Catcher is a book I won't fully understand without pondering for a while. Some books you can read and instantly understand what the author says. This one will take contemplation, not because Salinger is obtuse but because he is subtle. A good writer, by any account.

Gabrielle Linnell is a published writer who enjoys partying hard on Memorial Day with Slip n' Slides and too much homemade ice cream. She is currently re-reading "Gaudy Night" for pleasure and "The Things We Carried" for English.

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