The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

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A few weeks ago J.D. Salinger sadly died. A brief discussion on twitter revealed that several of us had not read any of his books, so we decided to join together and read of his most famous work.

It is amazing how wrong preconceptions of a novel can be. For some reason I thought Catcher in the Rye was about a legal case; I’d have put my money on fraud, but wouldn’t have been surprised by murder or drug dealing. I was, however, very surprised that this wasn’t a crime novel at all, but a coming of age novel about an obnoxious teenager.

For the few of you who have as little knowledge of this book as me, it is about Holden Caulfield, a teenager who is thrown out of his school. After his expulsion Caulfield heads to New York where he meets girls, gets drunk and then gets a bit lonely.

As you can probably guess from my description I wasn’t a big fan of this book. I disliked Caulfield, but my overwhelming emotion reading this book was boredom. I just didn’t care what Caulfield got up to and considered giving up at several points. As the book was a classic, fairly short and not too difficult to read I persevered, but I’m not sure that was the right decision. I don’t feel I gained anything by reading it and wouldn’t be tempted to try any of his other books.

I had heard that several people disliked the stream of conscious writing style, but I didn’t have a problem with that. I think that I may have enjoyed this more as a teenager, but as an adult I failed to connect with Caulfied. Most of the time I flipped between wanting to slap him and wanting him to shut up so I could get on with something else!

I’m afraid that this book just wasn’t for me, but see the other read-along participants for more discussion: Book NutSteph & Tony InvestigateSerendipity and The Zen Leaf

 

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Did you enjoy Catcher in the Rye?

Did you have any stupid preconceptions about this book?


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67 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    I suspect that like The bell jar this may be one that people read as a teenager and really identify with then due to teenage angst; I haven’t read it as an adult, nor have I come across an adult reading it for the first time, so very interesting to see your reaction.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I thought The Bell Jar was much better than this book. I think that people will prefer to read The Bell Jar as adults, while Catcher in the Rye will appeal to teenagers more.

  2. Rachel says:

    I only read this as a teenager and like Verity I think it’s a book you have to read then, otherwise you probably will, as you experienced, just want to slap Holden! I loved it when I read it, but then I was an angsty teenager at the time, so it struck a chord with me that it probably wouldn’t now if I reread it. That’s one of the reasons why I reread books so infrequently – some books I found amazing just because of who I was and what I was experiencing when I first read them, and I don’t want to reread them and find them disappointing now I’m no longer in the same circumstances and state of mind.

    1. Jackie says:

      Rachel, So far I have only re-read one book (1984 for the book group) I don’t want to risk ruining the memories of a book I’ve loved.

  3. No Jackie, I didn’t really care for this one, either. I read it in my mid-twenties and it seems like this is one of those works one must read as a teenager to really connect with Holden.

    1. Jackie says:

      A Bookshelf Monstrosity, I wonder when the cut off age is? I would have thought mid-twenties would be OK. Or perhaps you were very mature for your age?!

  4. Tricia says:

    I had a similar experience as Rachel. I really identified with the book as a teenager and loved it. Finally, I thought, someone who understands me!

    Now, thank heavens, I’ve grown up and don’t identify so much with Holden. But, for the teenage-angst phase of life, I think Salinger masterfully depicted the psychology of youth.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tricia, I can see why teenagers would love it and feel bad that I never experienced the joy of this book. There should be a list of books you should read at each age!

  5. Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from. And I do agree: I wanted to smack Holden; in fact my husband was subject to several rants about how hypocritical and pathetic Holden was. But I felt pity rather than disdain for the poor kid.

    I’m not sure, though, I would have had much patience for him as a teenager. I probably would have been more likely to smack him then than I did now.

    Thanks for participating!

    1. Jackie says:

      Melissa, I never felt pity for him – I thought he got what he deserved! I think I would have empathised with him more as a teenager, but not sure how much. I guess we’ll never know!

  6. I read this at a very young age and then again as an angsty teenager; like Verity and Rachel I think I responded to it more because I could identify on some level with Holden. I also have a love affair with New York -a city I have never been to- and love reading about it.

    Your preconceptions amuse me (they are so far removed from the premise of the book) but you must have been completely thrown! Holden Caulfield and J.D. Salinger have become so ingrained in pop culture that it surprises me that you were not aware of the back-story. *shrugs* not a bad thing but certainly interesting!

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I have no idea why I failed to know about Catcher in the Rye. It makes me wonder which other books I have the wrong idea about!

  7. diane says:

    I recall liking this one in high school, but that was so so long ago, I’m sure that might not be the case now. Sorry u were disappointed.

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, At least you can say you’ve read it and now so can I!

  8. Steph says:

    I was wondering how you’d deal with this one, given that it’s not exactly plot-oriented. There was something about Holden’s meandering rants that I actually rather liked, but I always feel so bad when people talk about how much they dislike Holden. I mean, I get that he’s not sympathetic, but for me I guess he just screams “poor lost soul”. I guess I had my time bonding with Holden when we were two against the world, and for that I’ll always forgive him his flaws!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, He is a ‘poor lost soul’ but that doesn’t stop him from being an annoying brat! Keep your fond memories of him alive – it is nice to have these teenage favourites!

  9. I have heard a lot of people say that this is best enjoyed as a teen (when I read it). I really like Holden Caulfield because I think that he is such a complete character, if that makes sense.

    1. Jackie says:

      J.T. I can see that he is a great character – well formed and realistic. It is just a shame that I didn’t care what he did at all!

  10. Sandy says:

    I’ve never read this book, but I did want to read it with some of you. The library had holds on all their copies for about two months though, and I wasn’t really wanting to buy it. So there. Guess I’m glad I didn’t. This is one of those books that are polarizing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’m lucky enough to have a stupidly large TBR pile in my house, so I happended to have a copy of this buried at the bottom of a book pile. At least you aren’t building up your hopes for 2 months waiting in the library queue!

  11. Dan Holloway says:

    I think you’re not alone in your reaction. The day Salinger died we ran an instant reaction “condolence book” on our website asking people what Catcher meant to them – a fairly high proportion confessed it did nothing for them

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, It does seem to divide opinion! I do feel a bit bad saying that I don’t enjoy it when he has just died though.

  12. I did say I thought Caulfield would annoy you :)

    I’ve read the book about once a year, for as long as I can remember. It’s one of my all time favourites, and despite Caulfield being a hypocrite, I found him utterly loveable – specially his relationship with Phoebe and the entire bit where the title is explained.

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy the book though, or feel as though you didn’t gain anything out of it… oh well, hopefully, you’ve got some other fantastic books in the pipeline.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, It is great that you know me so well!

      Perhaps the fact that you know Caulfield so well means that your teenage love for him has managed to last past the age when most people start to dislike him? It would be great to know if there was an age when you found yourself going off him though – keep up the re-reading for my research purposes!

  13. claire says:

    Like some of the other commenters above (and same as I commented on Amanda’s post), I also think this is one of those you have to read in your teens to appreciate. Not sure how I would feel about it now, when I reread, but regardless, it will always be special to me because it meant a lot to me when I was young and angsty. I have not read anything else by Salinger though, so it would be interesting to see how that goes by me now that I cannot connect with angsty teens!

    1. Jackie says:

      claire, I hope that you decide to read some other Salinger – it will be interesting to read what you think of him now you are an adult.

  14. Jenny says:

    I read this when I was sixteen – I quite specifically thought, if I don’t read this as a teenager I’m never going to like it. And I still couldn’t stand it. I’d had enough of Holden’s whining by about two chapters in. I’ve never reread it (so far) because I figure, if I hated it that much when I was in the throes of teen angst, I probably won’t like it any better as a grown-up.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, You seem to be the first person to dislike it as a teenager. I think not re-reading it is a good plan!

  15. I tried to read this as a teenager and couldn’t connect to it then. At the time, I thought it was because it was very male-oriented story. (Well, I guess I still think that’s why I couldn’t connect to it.)

    1. Jackie says:

      aviannschild, It was a very male story. Perhaps that is another reason I didn’t connect with it. I wonder if I’d have liked it if there has been a more central female character.

  16. Amanda says:

    I didn’t feel like Holden was obnoxious, just depressed, bored, and kind of stupid. The writing style didn’t bug me, but the whole book was just kind of boring. I’m sure I won’t remember anything from it in a year. That’s the second time I’ve read it, too…

    1. Jackie says:

      Amanda, I think I’ll remember the boredom in a year from now! It was such a battle to keep going with it!

  17. softdrink says:

    I read this over the weekend, and you’re right. BORING! And whiny. I’m not sure I would have liked it as a teenager, either.

    1. Jackie says:

      softdrink, I couldn’t agree with you more!

  18. Aimee says:

    Hmmm Jackie, I enjoyed this one when I read it, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype. I kept wondering if I didn’t mark it ‘brilliant’ because I wasn’t American and had no true understanding of the comments it was making about its history or culture character…

    x
    Aimee

    1. Jackie says:

      Aimee, That is an interesting idea. I’m not American either, so perhaps I just don’t know enough about american teenage angst! I’m pretty sure it is similar all over the world though….not sure there was a lot of culture/history in it. Or perhaps I just missed it all?

  19. I read this as a teenager and even then I wanted to slap Holden. I don’t remember being bothered by the writing style, just the character himself. I tried rereading it a few years after, but couldn’t bring myself to finish. My male friends all loved it then, so maybe there was a gender barrier I just couldn’t cross.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, It does come across as a very male book, but there are a lot of female commenters here who love him. It is good to know I’m not alone in wanting to slap him!

  20. She says:

    He was pretty obnoxious wasn’t he? I had to read this for a high school english class and while many people who loved it and we’re like, ‘oh, I so understand what he’s going through. He just defines me’, there were a few of us who didn’t like it. I just couldn’t relate to him and, like you, I found him to obnoxious and petty.

    1. Jackie says:

      She, Perhaps it is because we were never obnoxious and petty?!

  21. Belle says:

    I read The Catcher in the Rye as a teenager, for school – that was a long time ago! I remember I liked it better than some of the other books I had to read, but it wasn’t a book I really liked, definitely not enough to reread. I don’t think it was the school aspect, either, since there’ve been several books I had to read for different English courses that I really loved. I do remember thinking, poor Holden – he was so filled with angst …

    1. Jackie says:

      Belle, I’m afraid I feel no sympathy for him! I’m glad I didn’t have to study him in school, although maybe it would have been better than Shakespeare!

  22. Mome Rath says:

    Well, the review was about what I expected! Glad to see so many other folks who don’t get Holden Caulfield (and yes, guys can also find him immature and annoying). For that matter, I totally forgot this was one of the books I read last year until I reviewed my list in December, so I agree the book is forgettable. But it has made a bigger impact than intended, as it was connected to the shootings of John Lennon and Ronald Reagan.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mome Rath, Yes, I heard about the shooting connection. It doesn’t make the book any more interesting to me, but can see why it would help it to become a lasting classic.

  23. Karen says:

    I read this one early on in my uni days (so I was about 19 or 20) and I really don’t remember anything about it apart from the fact that it did not resonate with me at all and I really didn’t like it! I’ve always wondered if I should read it again now that I am 35 but I must admit I’m not that tempted!

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, It sounds as though there is no need to re-read it – you’ll only forget it quickly anyway!

  24. Nadia says:

    I read this one in high school, so I was about 14 or 15 and I absolutely loved the book at the time. However, I tried to read the book recently and for the life of me I just could not get into it. At 31, this book does not seem the least bit interesting and I truly wonder if I ever really did like it – because if I did, what was it about the book that I loved? Like you, I couldn’t care less about what Holden was up to. I have it on my bookshelf now and I’m thinking of putting it up on bookmooch.

    1. Jackie says:

      Nadia, I’m getting rid of my copy straight away too! There is no way I’m going to read it, or inflict it on anyone I know!

  25. Beth F says:

    Sorry that you’ve given up on Salinger. I loved all his work (what little there was in book form and the occasional New Yorker article). I admit that read CITR in the late 1960s or 1970s. I loved it. I mostly remember that Holden was a very real character. Maybe one has to have closer ties to the late 50s/early 60s to appreciate it?

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, That is an interesting point. I wasn’t born until the late 70s, so I have no connection to the 50s/60s. Perhaps that is just another reason that I felt no connection to it.

  26. Simon S says:

    We are agreed Jackie… I didnt like this book!

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, It is good to know that we agree on some books!

  27. Mae says:

    I’m the opposite. I *hated* it when I read it as a teen but I re-read it late last year and found I quite I enjoyed it. I don’t love it, as some fanatics do, but I did find new aspects to the novel and even found a certain endearment to Holden Caulfield.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mae, Interesting! I wonder why that is? Almost everyone seems to have found it worse as they get older. You must be one of a kind!

  28. Alice says:

    I have also read it recently for the same reason (for some reason I thought it was about farming or some sort of rural tale, evidently my imagination fails) and quite enjoyed it.

    I found Holden annoying but I found I didn’t mind because he is probably one of the best written teenagers I have come across. A lot of young characters that I have read seem to have that annoying maturity locked within them, where really they should be in their early 20s, but I didn’t get this with Holden.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alice, LOL! At least I can see the farmer reference with the ‘Rye’ in the title.

      I do agree with you about the realistic teenager, but it just shows that I’m not a fan of connecting with troubled teens!

  29. CITR is not at all my favourite Salinger book (and it’s true I enjoyed it a lot more as a teen), but I think I could easily re-read it now and still not be bored. Still find Holden’s voice funny and honest.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lija, I didn’t find any of CITR funny. Perhaps I was just too annoyed by him to be able to get the jokes?

  30. Jeane says:

    I liked it, but then I haven’t read it for years and years, so I might feel differently now as an adult. I know there’s been other books I had some strange totally off misconceptions about going in, but this wasn’t one them. I really had no idea what it was about, just that it was famous, when I first set out to read it. (I thought the title was very odd, though).

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, The title is quite odd considering what it is about. I think it gives a very false idea of the contents. My plain cover gives no clue either, so it is no wonder that some people don’t know what it is about.

  31. Kathleen says:

    I read this book for the first time several months ago. I did not see how it became a novel that is considered a “classic”. I found Holden to be a troubled young man in need of an intervention. He seemed depressed and self destructive to me. I think if I had read the story earlier in my life I might have connected with it more? But the whole youthful angst thing just doesn’t resonate with me as much now that I am in my forties. That being said, my almost 16 year old son picked it up and starting reading it and thought it was great…go figure!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, I think that just proves that this book is still resonating with teenagers today, but is lost on anyone older.

  32. Rebecca Reid says:

    I liked it as a teen, but had similar thoughts when I reread this last year! Stop whining already!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, I couldn’t agree more!

  33. caite says:

    ‘Franny and Zooey’ is much better IMHO.

  34. Cat says:

    I think just the opposite happened for me!

    I absolutely hated Catcher when I first read it in high school and thought Holden was whiny and obnoxious. But I’ve just recently reread it, and actually enjoyed it the second time around.

    It’s hard to explain, but I think I tried too hard to “relate” to Holden back in high school because that’s what was to be expected. I wasn’t a very angsty teen, thought I had nothing in common with Holden, and therefore hated the book. This time, though, the experience was less about those teenage angsty feelings and more about how the character deals with death and grief, and his fear of change – things I think even adults can understand.

    Anyway, it’s interesting to see how everyone reacts differently! I think that’s also what makes it such an intriguing book.

  35. Memory says:

    I’ve read this book three times–once at fifteen, once at eighteen and once at twenty-five–and I enjoyed it every time. As Cat said, I read it as a book about grief rather than a book about an angsty teenager.

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