Not THAT Kind of Rye

I re-read The Catcher in the Rye on the week-end. It's been vexing me how little I remember about some of the books I've read. I really like re-reading, but it always feels a little like falling behind (maybe if I didn't surround myself with gargantuan, teetering towers of books to be read it would be easier). I realized that all I remembered about Catcher was the character's name and that he said 'goddam' a lot, and something about being at a teacher's house in the middle of the night. And angst, of course. So I read it again. A lot of people have said that they read the book as a teenager and really identified with the character. I don't remember this being the case for me at all. I thought he was kind of a jerk. Then again, I was kind of a goody-two-shoes rule-following teenager -- I smushed up all my angst and alienation in a tiny little unappetizing ball and rammed it so far down my gullet it wouldn't resurface until several years later in the middle of a lecture on Latin America -- my professor thought I was weeping for the plight of the downtrodden poor, which would have been understandable, but actually I was just suddenly realizing how sad and artificial my comfortable, middle-class upbringing had been.

No, really. The book seems much better and much sadder to me, reading it as an adult. It's bandied about as a universal paean to youthful rebellion and disaffectedness, which in some ways it is, but Holden Caulfield also has real shit to deal with. I feel like his rather showy despair is somewhat more earned than that of some adolescents. He's lost a brother, and his parents persist in putting him in boarding school which, come on, who wouldn't be angst-ridden and angry? Has anyone ever had a positive experience at boarding school, other than some of the sappy little gits in Enid Blyton (just kidding, I adore Enid Blyton)? He fails in academic pursuits because he's mourning, and he feels like most of the world is artificial and worthless because no one seems to have properly acknowledged the pain and senselessness of his loss. The entire book is a diagram of his desperate and graceless attempts to connect with someone, and while there are flashes of humour and the ridiculous, on the whole I just felt really sorry for him. I was glad that he was wherever he is now, resting and, it is to be hoped, getting the help he needs.

So is it just that I re-read it in *&^ January? If I read it again next month will he just be an obnoxious slacker, on par with the high school kids who hang around smoking and swearing outside the library doors while I'm trying to shepherd my kids past and doing my best not to look like a starchy, disapproving middle-aged mother, even though that's precisely what I am? I might never know.

photo credit
I'm also re-reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for book club, which is a little more fun. Here's to not having your house destroyed to make way for a hyper-space bypass, and to someday figuring out the definitive recipe for the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Also, Eve is starting rehearsal for another Irish Dance Show in March. It's called Just a Bit of Craic. Craic is pronounced 'crack'.
(Pronounced eyebrow raise).


Anonymous said…
The name of that dance show is brilliant.

And I am feeling very behind in having NEVER read The Catcher in the Rye. Or, for that matter, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In my defense I went to engineering school and had to read a LOT of physics textbooks. After that, all I was up for was Cosmo.
Mary Lynn said…
I didn't read Catcher in the Rye till my late 20's. I felt I was somewhat of a fraud having a Minor in English without having ever read it. I absolutely loved it. Can't remember the details of it at all, no, but I thought it was wonderful.

I've read and re-read Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy so many times it's ridiculous. Between grade 9 and my last year of university I probably read it at least every other year, and I've read it a couple of times since then, too. It just makes me happy.

Amber, how were you allowed into engineering without having read Douglas Adams?!? You really must try's lots of fun.
Mary Lynn said…
Oh yah...just a bit of Craic. Awesome.
Amber said…
I was never a fan of Catcher in the Rye but it seemed like a lot of my friends in high school were obsessed with it. Hitch Hiker's Guide though, wow, I love that book. Makes me laugh out loud. I can't wait to read it out loud to my sons.
Anonymous said…
I often reread books. One I turn back to many times is A Separate Peace...not quite sure why I am so intrigued by it. It's been several years, maybe time to reread and maybe I can pinpoint why I'mdrawn to it! Another is To Kill A Mockingbird. I don't know anyone else who rereads books.
alison said…
We just did Catcher in the Rye in my book club a couple of months ago. It was OK, but I didn't love it. I understand it better with your explanation though.

I left you a comment on your comment on my blog about my comment on your blog. (Complicated, eh?)

Love the dance show name. Someone has a sense of humour.
Eni said…
Well, as for me, I had long passed Enid Blyton's stage when was in boarding school. Probably, from experience, Enid Blyton's school stories may have been too good to be true. Anyway, that has not prevented me from writing a book on Enid Blyton, titled, The Famous Five: A personal Anecdotage (
Stephen Isabirye
Patti Murphy said…
All y'all are so literary. I haven't read anything challenging in a while--aside from my younger daughter's report card.

I just found HHGTTG so annoying. Obviously, I'm not an engineer, but I do work with them, so I should try again in the hope it gives me a better understanding of how they tick. Most are Russian though, so maybe I should read something by Dostoevsky, which heretofore I managed to avoid.

I love your blog, Allison. Your posts are addictive. Thanks for putting me in your Top 7 and introducing me to your blogging community. I've enjoyed reading the blogs of my fellow commentators here: Amber, Mary Lynn, suzicate...

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