BOOK REVIEW: “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

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“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison
 

Few things irritate me more than people who constantly insist the world is so different now and things change so much. This typically happens between people with age differences. Notice I’m not singling out any particular age group because they are all equally guilty of this narrow-minded behavior. Grandparents tell college kids the world is so different now. College kids tell gradeschool children the world has changed so much for them. Children in junior high tell adults they don’t understand how much the world has transformed. See? Everyone does this. Preteens. Teenagers. College students. Adults. Senior citizens. All of you think your age makes you special. All of you out there, every generation, is guilty of deluding themselves into believing your age group is somehow unique in all of human history and therefore, no one outside of your age group can possibly comprehend what your world is all about or what you are going through. No matter what generation you identify with, your mind is clouded with self-important misinformation and misguided delusions of grandeur based on nothing but your birth certificate.

Stop it. All of you, just stop it. Stop thinking your generation is so goddamn extraordinary – and again, notice, I’m not singling out any particular generation. It doesn’t matter which generation you are in because all generations exhibit the identical stupidity and ignorance. From birth to death, we’re all the same, yet you constantly insist that the world has vastly evolved, compared to every generation that is not your own.

First of all, allow me to redefine the word “generation” for you. I need educate you, because you’re using it wrong.

Within the minuscule and irrelevant decades of your lifetime, we often define 20 years as a generation. Right? Give or take, but that’s a good approximation. A newborn baby is a “different generation” compared to a 20 year old and a 40 year old is a “different generation” from a 60 year old. Can we all agree on that? 20 years is the typical cutoff.

Now, let me tell you, that’s wrong.

That viewpoint is a very selfish and feeble-minded perception of time.

In truth, generations actually span a much larger range of history. And frankly, you already agree me, so long as it’s outside of your lifetime.

Allow me to give an example. Do you see people born in 1820 and 1840 and 1860 as being very different? Do you perceive those groups of children as “new generations”?

No! You see them as people born in the 1800′s. Correct? You don’t think of them as separate generations. You lump them all together. Why? Because you have an infantile perception of time. When you look at moments of human history that occurred decades or centuries before you were born, the word “generation” takes on a new meaning. Instead of “generations” originating every 20 years, you might acknowledge spans of 50 or 100 years. Right? Obviously a person born in 1830 and 1930 are clearly different generations. But, when we are talking about decades from past centuries, like 1820 and 1840, we don’t really differentiate that 20 year span as a new generation.

Therefore, I reiterate, the perception of every 20 years being a “new generation” is wrong. Inserting yourself in your rightful place in a larger cosmic timeframe, a “generation” is defined as the time between the lifetimes of every living relative we meet while we’re alive. The bookend of those family members represents our generation.

For example, the oldest living relative I ever met was my great grandfather. He was born in the late 1800′s. If I ever have children and greatgrandchildren (which is never going to happen because it would require meeting a woman with a pulse, but bear with me), then my generation would end with their deaths. That’s the true definition of a human generation – it’s the span of time within which your life has touched other living souls. Those people consist of your generation.

My definition of “generation” is superior. Because my definition reminds you that humanity is one, and we are far more connected and similar than anyone seems to be aware of. Regardless of our age-difference, so long as we are alive upon the earth at the same time, then we are of the same human generation. This is our time. This is our generation.

Let me repeat that. Because it’s important. It’s important for you to stop alienating everyone you didn’t go to high school with. So long as you and I are alive on this earth at the same time, we are of the same generation.

What does all of this have to do with a book review for The Catcher in the Rye?

I made this review in December of 2013 and author J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye over 60 years ago, in 1951.

Once upon a time, I read a commentary from a schoolteacher who lamented that none of her students related to The Catcher in the Rye. She then drew an ignorant conclusion – that the voice of Holden Caulfield had grown obsolete with the current generation. That’s bullshit! The truth is, she had an entire class full of lousy phonies. The whole point of The Catcher in the Rye has always been that 99% of people aren’t going to get it. Most people aren’t going to relate to it. That’s the whole idea! The book was never meant to appeal to teenagers just because they are teenagers. The book is relatable to anyone, at any age, who isn’t a fucking lemming. Most people are braindead goddamn sheep. The Catcher in the Rye isn’t for them and it never was. The fact that a teacher had a class full of kids who didn’t appreciate the book isn’t any great shock. But to presume that the problem is a generational one is forgetting that most people, of every generation, are a bunch of pudding-brained reality-show-addicted zombies surgically grafted to their cellphones and televisions. These aren’t people capable of critical thinking or exerting free will. They are the children in the rye. They aren’t the catchers and they never will be.

The explanation is truly that simple. All the children will hate it. Only the catchers will understand it.

Anyone stupid enough to think The Catcher in the Rye is a book about teen angst and you stopped relating to it when you became an adult, missed the point. The truth is, you never understood it. You’re nothing but a big phony and Holden would have let you walk right off the cliff, because lousy phonies like you could never be saved. You were always a lost cause.

Those people who dislike the book often become very defensive and argue that just because they dislike it doesn’t mean they don’t understand it.

Um, yes it does.

The book is about the rage of having to deal with the blissful ignorance of humanity. Don’t you see? Everyone should share in that anger. Remember that old saying? “If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention.” Thus, to deride people by saying “you didn’t understand it” is a compliment. We are giving you the benefit of the doubt. Because if you truly understood the story and you still disliked it, there is something clearly wrong with you. So when we fans of the book tell you that you didn’t understand it, shut the fuck up and concede to that. The alternative is that you’re a fucking demon. Because if you see what’s wrong and you just don’t fucking care, then you are part of the goddamn problem.

The Catcher in the Rye isn’t about whining teen angst. Not at all. Never was. Anyone who perceives the book as such has no reading comprehension skills. Although, considering the broader degradation of intellect in western culture, that’s not shocking. The story is about the frustrations of how oblivious people are to the world around them. For gods sake, J.D. Salinger tells you the entire meaning of the book in the fucking title itself! Ever notice that there has never been a negative review to comment on the title? That’s because people who dislike the book aren’t intelligent enough to spot the obvious. The entire meaning of the book is about the blind childish stupidity of the world and how Holden just wants to be The Catcher in the Rye, the only one mature enough to see above the problems of the world and protect all you kids from falling into oblivion. Dreaming of being the savior to you all. You can’t see how fucked up you are because you can’t see the cliff. We stand above you not in arrogance, but because we’ve just been here a little longer than you. Why the the fuck do you think he used that as the title? There’s nothing to debate or discuss or analyze. The fucking meaning is right there. There’s nothing cryptic about it. It’s as clear as a punch in the fucking nose. You fucking sissies have probably never been in a fistfight, so you wouldn’t understand that metaphor.

If you ever stop relating to that, if that message ceases to resonate with you as you grow older and you suddenly think The Catcher in the Rye is about some whiny prep school jerk, written in the voice of an obsolete generation, then you have devolved into a phony of the worst kind. You’ve become a traitor to your own ideologies. You never understood what it means to be The Catcher in the Rye. And you never will. The price you pay to maintain your ideals is a lifetime of isolation and accepting that fate without regrets. Preserving your ethics is a charge you’ve never possessed the fortitude to do.

Nothing changes.

You can instantly tell those readers who remain true to themselves and those who compromise and become phony. In that vein, The Catcher in the Rye is another “dating test” book. Never go out with a girl who doesn’t like this book. Never go out with a girl who doesn’t love this story. She’s not worth it. She has nothing to offer.

For those of you who haven’t read it, The Catcher in the Rye centers around Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy who was kicked out of his prep school and spends a few days wandering the streets of New York City. The book has no plot. No antagonists. No action scenes. No love interest. By the end of the book he ends up institutionalized for his nervous breakdown but as a person who had dated and loved those girls who end up in institutions, that’s a load of crap. There is nothing wrong with Holden. There’s no justification for him to be locked in the looney bin. The world is flawed and deranged. You know the old saying, “In an insane world a sane man must appear insane.” I said there are no antagonists in the story, but I misspoke – the culture itself is the antagonist and those who see the insanity of our society too clearly are typically the ones we shut away. The story breaks all the conventions of storytelling structures and does so in a way that is absolutely poignant and captivating. The kind of book you read in one sitting and when you look at the clock, you’re stunned at how quickly the hours flew past.

Holden is an idealist. A dreamer who really wants to the world to be better than it happens to be and he meets all these people and has all these conversations and slowly comes to see how his view of life and his idealism is simply not shared or understood by the rest of the world around him. The rest of the world conforms to compromise and too readily eschews any nobility or idealism. Although it was written over 60 years ago, it still resonates with an insightful meaning and it reflects a kind of exasperation that is just as prevalent today as it was in 1951.

One statistic I found claimed the book still sells 250,000 copies a year. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Author J.D. Salinger passed away in 2010 and all of us who were alive in that year, shared the lifetime of J.D. Salinger. Even through it was written decades before I was born, this book and his writing was a voice for your generation and mine.

In closing, allow me to apologize for one thing. Forgive me for doing a review on The Catcher in the Rye and using the terms lousy and phony. There is no greater cliche than an imbecilic book reviewer using Holden Caulfield idioms in order to appear as a hip and cool genuine fan. That shows a pretty weak and pathetic lack of creativity. I got a bang out of that. Compared to J.D. Salinger, we’re all a bunch of crumby flits. That killed me.
 
“In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience… In fact, it may be truly said that no American child is ever blind to the deficiencies of its parents, no matter how much it may love them.”
- Oscar Wilde