If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.
~J.D. Salinger, from The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye has consistently sold tens of millions of copies every year since it was published over 60 years ago. In Holden Caulfield, Salinger channeled the melancholy of Hamlet and invented a genre of angst exploited and expanded by Sarte, Camus and others. It resonates because we can all relate to teenage angst.
I think God let us be parents so we can understand Him better. In His brilliance, He lets us experience childhood so we can understand innocence, adolescence so we can understand folly and adulthood so we can understand responsibility. He also teaches us context. As we get older and hopefully wiser, we look back and smile at the problems that seemed so big when we were seven and seventeen. Among other things, growing-up is about perspective which is the gateway drug to wisdom.
1 Corinthians 13:11–12
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
The painting portrays three human heads, each facing in a different direction, above three animal heads, depicting (from left) a wolf, a lion and a dog. The painting is usually interpreted as operating on a number of levels. At the first level, the different ages of the three human heads represent the “Three Ages of Man” (youth, maturity, old age). The different directions in which they are facing reflect a second, wider concept of Time itself as having a past, present and future. This theme is repeated in the animal heads which, according to some traditions, are associated with those categories of time. The third level, from which the painting has acquired its present name, is suggested by a barely visible inscription, EX PRAETERITO/PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT/NE FUTURA ACTIONẼ DETURPET (“From the experience of the past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future actions”).
Literature: The Catcher in The Rye
What makes a book great? Some books regularly show up on “the greatest list” of literature and many are almost entirely unread or unreadable by contemporary audiences. Authors like Faulkner and Joyce are known for their difficult prose and it’s hard to imagine books like Light in August or Ulysses selling a single copy today.
The Catcher in the Rye has consistently sold tens of millions of copies every year since it was published over 60 years ago. Granted, banal books like Fifty Shades of Grey have also sold in the tens of millions, but most tend to be pan flash amusements that grow cold in time.
Something between the simple words of its first person narration catches in the gullet and has sparked both reflection and action – occasionally with horrific consequences – in generations of readers.
In Holden Caulfield, Salinger channeled the melancholy of Hamlet and invented a genre of angst exploited and expanded by Sarte, Camus and others. When Sylvia Plath says in “The Bell Jar “I felt wise and cynical as all hell” you can almost see a copy of Catcher sticking out of her purse. Yes, the existential roots were already in place, but the rebellion and sociological seismic shifts of the late 50’s and 60’s were still ahead. Salinger might not have invented them, but his influence is undeniable.
So does that make the book great?
I can’t say it was enjoyable to read, nor do I recommend it as beach reading for a breezy summer day. It is dark and frustrating and most of the time I wanted to skim to the end to get past the droning whine of Holden Caulfield.
That said, my contextual understanding of its resultant ends made the means worth the trip.