Overrated or Misunderstood?

Recently, I decided on a whim to read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger. I have fond memories of reading Catcher from back in high school, and was hungry to read a classic novel. So I found a cheap, used copy on Amazon.com and read it pretty quickly.

I don’t want to turn this into a book review or a paper on Catcher in the Rye, so I’ll keep it short. Honestly, I didn’t like it. I distinctly remember liking it in high school, and reading it now – more than five years later – it flat-out annoyed me. Don’t get me wrong, it is well written and all, but it was just……annoying.

Maybe the tale of a severely emo adolescent is not as appealing now that I am twenty-three, which makes sense to me because since Catcher… is a “coming of age” story, and I was in the process of “coming of age” back in high school , I don’t identify with that stage anymore.

You’re probably thinking “why did you think it was so a
nnoying?” Well, I’ll tell you. Holden Caufield is annoying. He is so incredibly self-centered that all he talks about in any sort of detail is himself. His endless cursing and ad nauseum descriptions of “phonies” get old after a couple chapters. Holden is self-centered to the point of incredibility – he has such a strong dislike of everyone he writes about – save for his kid sister, Phoebe – that he loses any authority to judge others. Holden is not nearly as good a perceptor as he thinks he is.

I did like parts of the book, but as a whole, I did not understand why so many people absolutely love it. I read the book in many different settings, and a decent amount of people – some I know, some I don’t – would come up to me and rave about how much they loved the book. I recognize that it was a revolutionary book – it pushed the boundaries of literature when it was written – but I also am a firm believer that if it was written today, it wouldn’t garner nearly as much fame as it has now. Its popularity is a product of its era.

Without going into too much detail (like on what I liked about the book), I want to know why those who hold so fast to it like it so much. Give me reasons why you like it. Please also let me know how old you were at your last reading of it.

5 thoughts on “Overrated or Misunderstood?

  1. I had to read Catcher the same grade you did, with the same teacher. I, too, re-read it when I was about 23. (So much for carving your own niche in the world, eh). Any book I read in high school was cramped by the pressure to read into every ambiguity and try to detect every symbol and hint of foreshadowing that I wasn’t able to let a story breathe. Upon re-reading for pleasure at my own pace, I found that Catcher doesn’t really have an appealing fragrance that I’d want to let breathe.I agree with Ryan (whoever Ryan is). Catcher is a literature version of some modern art that seems to have no purpose or aim other than to exist. “This is a brilliant piece of art (because it’s hanging in an art museum)” = “This is great piece of literature (because enough people have said it’s a great piece of literature)”

  2. I read this book probably once or twice a year, and I have to go against the grain here and say I love it. My copy is held together with Scotch tape.Holden is annoying. Incredibly so. I’ll agree with you there, but I think that’s what makes the book so good. The only thing he cares about is protecting innocence, and all the while he’s powerless to control his own loss of it. I see him as a child that was once hurt badly by adults, and all he wants in the world is to not become like them. But it’s impossible to stay a child forever, and I think that message is both painful and beautiful.How do you go from being abused to becoming the abuser? How do you look in the mirror once you are everything you hate? It’s a good book. Get over it. 🙂

  3. I had to read “The Sorrows of Young Werther” in a college class, and had the same reaction to Werther as you have expressed regarding Holden. “Sorrows” is a classic by Goethe, part of the romantic period of literature, perhaps groundbreaking in some way…but ultimately, the main character (Werther) is simply self-obsessed.While I did read “Catcher” in high school (though not as an assignment) I don’t remember it well. I don’t think it did much for me. Similarly for “On the Road.”

  4. Yeah, On the Road didn’t do much for me, either. in fact, I never finished it, which is something I don’t do very often. I much prefer Blue Like Jazz for a road trip/coming of age nonfiction.

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