Thursday, July 16, 2015

                      Happy Birthday to The Catcher In The Rye!

      Sixty four years ago today, Little, Brown and Co. published a little 200 page book about the unraveling of a teenaged boy following his brother's death.  Told from the viewpoint of the main character, Holden Caulfield, (You may have heard that name a time or two in the last few decades.) the story is set in post World War II New York City.  Reading The Catcher in the Rye became a rite of passage for people who questioned authority, strained against social mores and struggled with the finality of death, which is probably everyone at some point in their lives.
     The popularity of his book caught J.D. Salinger a bit off guard.  He tried unsuccessfully to keep up with the fan mail, the fame and the notoriety that his story generated.  Shaking off all responsibility for explaining and discussing his work, he became somewhat reclusive and attempted to continue his writing career without interference from the outside world.  (which became everyone but his agent, his publisher and his family)
     In order to understand the aura that existed around Catcher and Salinger, I read Joanna Rakoff's enlightening memoir, My Salinger Year.   Ms. Rakoff details her first big job after college, working as an assistant to J. D. Salinger's literary agent.  Set in the mid nineties, also in New York City, Rakoff's observations about the world of authors, literary agents and poor college graduates will ring true for anyone interested in human nature, the creative process and the rarefied literary world.

     I suggest reading the two books consecutively, beginning with The Catcher in the Rye.  Reading Catcher again as an adult was very different from reading the book for the first time as a seventh grader.  Catcher almost seems like a different book now.   Reading it as a twentysomething and again as a mother of three college students completely changed my pre-teen impression of it.   My opinion changed from "What's the big deal about this book?" to "Oh, poor Holden!"
     So happy birthday to you, dear Catcher in the Rye.  See you again in a few years.  I look forward to reading Holden's story as an older and perhaps wiser me.  I wonder what Salinger will have to say to me then?

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