Monday, October 4, 2010

The Catcher In The Rye Closes Banned Books Week

The Catcher In The RyeThe Catcher In The Rye will celebrate its 60th anniversary in American literature next year. And few books have tallied as many admirable and dubious distinctions. It is almost a shame the reclusive J.D. Salinger will not see any celebration. He died earlier this year.

Not everyone understands the allure of The Catcher In The Rye. And not every review has been glowing. As late as 2004, Jonathan Yardley called the book a maladroit, mawkish novel. Such criticism is not uncommon. Wikipedia cites James Stern with the New York Times as being one of the first critics in 1951. But I don't see it.

Stern's review reads like a story about a girl, Helga, who reads everything he brings into the house. At the end of it, Stern retells how he was trying to draw a few similarities between Helga and Holden Caulfield, but his words are wasted.

"But old Hel," he wrote, "She was already reading this crazy 'Catcher' book all over again. That's always a good sign with Hel."

Holden Caulfield Is Conflicted, Just Like Everyone.

The authenticity of Caulfield is that he is just as conflicted as the rest of us. He lands somewhere between a sentimental softy and wannabe heroic rebel, pointing out the more obvious pitfalls of a crummy world.

But isn't that the calling card of being a teenager, with occasional bouts of confusion, angst, and alienation? And isn't that the reason, even today, some teenagers cling to the anti-hero as someone symbolic of their struggle against more superficial students and faculty at places not all that different from Pencey preparatory school?

There is significant pressure placed on teenagers as self-assigned role models tell them what they ought to be as opposed to who they might be. Even Caulfield finds himself caught between adopting an idealistic role as honest guardian of childhood or resigning from the game all together.

But just as his English teacher offers up later in the story, sometimes it is better to live humbly for a cause than it is to die nobly for it. Choices are seldom black or white, with meandering someplace in between.

It's a confusing place to coexist, shunning "phonies" while having pity for the innocent. And no one better than Caulfield seems to exemplify the context in that he is bold enough to strike out on his own but naive enough to think a prostitute might hold some secret meaning in life. He gets beat up for his trouble.

J.D. Salinger Opted To Drop Out As A Guardian.

For all that J.D. Salinger might have observed of the world, the mischaracterization and popularization of this book seemed to be his undoing. He chose to drop out rather than debate the finer and often flawed interpretations of his book. It's hard to blame him. The Catcher In The Rye is likely to be the only book to be the most censored and the second most taught in the same year.

While the story carries with it a somber lesson without a definitive character progression, it leaves the reader with nothing much more than quiet acceptance in knowing that what we think we know and what is rarely adds up to the same thing. Knowing this, it is even more of shame that so many misguided souls, ranging from Mark David Chapman to John Hinckley, Jr. would become forever associated with the book.

Likewise, it is always peculiar that this book would continue to be challenged for better than six decades, beginning with the firing of a teacher in 1960 for assigning the novel in class. The most common reason cited is Caulfield's decision to pay a prostitute, despite having no real intention to sleep with her. But other issues include the mention of suicide, language, and commonhood of smoking and drinking in the 1950s. We chose to include it to close Banned Books Week.

The Catcher In The Rye By J.D. Salinger Catches 9.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's hard to argue against anything but The Catcher In The Rye scoring high. It already has caused global change, though not for any of the reasons the author intended. Not that he ever intended. Ironically, it wasn't even the most lurid of his writings, a distinction that belongs to A Perfect Day for Bananafish.

The Catcher In The Rye has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. The Catcher in the Rye is available on Amazon. It is not readily available for e-readers nor is it available as an audiobook. No film adaptation has ever been approved, despite dozens of filmmakers and actors who pursued bringing it to the screen. Salinger refused them all.
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