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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: Catcher in the Rye

Since I seem to have extended my blog vacation to include my physical vacation to British Columbia, I thought I would continue the trend of light posts and discuss my most recent reading of fiction. One of the outcomes of my university education is that I hardly ever read books for pleasure anymore. Reading is still a great enjoyment of mine, however, and I therefore do manage to occasionally find the time to read a book, particularly when I travel. Thus, my recent trip to visit my family has given me the opportunity to finally read one of those books that it seems like virtually everyone else has already read: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

Until I started reading the book on my flight out here I did not actually have any idea what the story was about other than knowing that the main character's name is Holden. The reason I knew the main character's name is Holden is because my grade eleven and twelve history teacher kept calling me that for about a month while she was reading the book (apparently Calden and Holden are similar enough to be confusing for her). Now that I have read the book, I find the comparison a little disconcerting. While I certainly did have my share of teenage angst in high school, I was never a pathological liar nor do I think I was overly concerned with people acting 'phony' all the time.

I also have to admit that, now that I have read it, I am a little puzzled about why The Catcher in the Rye is considered such a classic piece of literature (or at least classic enough to be on many high school reading lists). I recognize that it was a highly influential book stylistically (it reads, after all, like a book that is much more modern than it actually is simply because it helped define the modern style), but I am not even sure why it ever gained such influence in the first place. The reason the style of the novel strikes me as so modern is because it contains a high concentration of precisely those stylistic elements common to modern novels but rare in literature from several decades ago (or earlier) that irk me to no end. It is perhaps unfair to judge the structure of Salinger's prose too harshly (since the book was basically written as an oral narration by the teenage protagonist, and the choppy sentences, awkward segues, and frequent descriptive profanity are therefore reasonable elements to include), but it does bother me that Salinger's text helped to make those narrative structures popular stylistic choices even outside of a first person narration by an angsty teenage boy (basically, Salinger helped poor sentence structure become regarded as legitimate individual choices in style).

I don't actually have much more to say on the matter without turning this post into a rant against modern literature as a whole. I think it is a good thing that I finally got around to reading the novel, as it has had such an apparently profound effect on modern narrative style and remains a prominent element of popular culture, but I remain dubious about the actual merits of the text itself. I would call the text neither enjoyable nor interesting to read.


Ryan said...

I actually just read this last week, too. At 24, I wonder if I am a bit too old too really appreciate the theme of maturation and passing into adulthood. Though I was no Holden, I have been through that stage of my life and moved on to the next. I wonder if I would have associated with the book more had I read it while I was Holden's age. As I currently am feeling the whole quarterlife crisis thing, I definitely enjoyed Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, which is about a girl at Yale who can do anything she wants to do but has no idea how to decide.

Mozglubov said...

It is highly possible that is my problem too... I am also 24 and reading the book for the first time.