When I was a young teenager, my favourite book was J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. I don’t recall how I found it, but I assume I stumbled across it during my ‘classic literature is the only literature/rock music is the only music’ phase. Yeah, I was one of those teenagers. In all honesty, I feel that’s why I loved the book so darn much. The protagonist of the book, Holden Caulfield, knows he’s ‘different’, he’s not like anyone else around him; he thinks he’s more mature, more serious, more intelligent. I too felt I was ‘different’. I played folk music when ‘no-one else did’; I wanted to do well at school when ‘no-one else did’; I wanted to perform in theatre when ‘no-one else did’. In fact, plenty of people in my school did those things, I just didn’t care about them because I was ‘different’ and being different was cool. In all reality, I was not different in any way shape or form; I was just an angsty teenager trying to be cool by avoiding the mainstream.
I loved ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ so much that I even owned a t-shirt that said ‘Holden Caulfield thinks you’re a phony’ and willingly wore it on a daily basis (all photos of this have been deleted, yikes). One of the reasons I loved this book so much was down to the ingrained teenage angst that we all have from the ages of thirteen to seventeen. For those of you who have not read ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, I’ll give you a brief synopsis – Holden Caulfield thinks everyone around him is fake, so he fails out of school and runs around New York for a few days, trying to find meaning and avoid the people he calls ‘phonies’. Although that blunt description is what I see now as an adult, teenage Rosie saw something else, something more meaningful. She saw a young man who prides himself on his differences, and doesn’t succumb to the expectations of those around him. She wanted to be as honest and confident and sincere as Holden. In all honesty, thank God I grew up.
I haven’t read this book since before I came to University, and I have grown a lot since then (in knowledge, as one would expect, and also in clothing size because I discovered Subway is nut free). So, I set down to read this book as an almost twenty-three year old. I read through it with the same speed I did as a teenager, as it is a very easy book to read; the chapters are short, situations not laborious, and it is a well written book. But goodness, I hate Holden. I’ve come across so many people at University who are still like him, who think they are better than everyone else for liking one thing, or studying a certain subject, or growing up in a certain place. In fact, Holden very much resembles a lot of what I dislike in society; he hates things that are popular just so he can seem cool, he treats women as sexual objects unless they are his family, he’s delinquent, whiny, entitled, and just unlikable. And the cherry on the top? He’s the one who is fake! He pretends to dislike things that he secretly likes, and then abuses others because they enjoy it themselves – he’s a hypocrite.
So why ever did teenage Rosie admire him and love this book so much? I guess it’s because I was a teenager, looking through young eyes at another teenager. I saw a character who resembled me at the most basic of levels, and clung on to him as I was trying to become my own person, as every teenager does. Reading it this time around, I still did enjoy the book; it has a great and consistent writing style, and paints New York like a picture. It’s a great novel, with a truly unlikable character. I thank Holden Caulfield for supporting teenage me, and showing her, in some way, that it’s okay to be different. But if I met him nowadays, I’d throw a glass of water over him at his first word.
So, this is the first post in a series called ‘Ten Years On’, where I revisit books from my early teenage years! When I have the time (between work, blogging, running a theatre company, completing a Masters, and trying to stay afloat), I’ll pick up a book that I used to adore as a thirteen year old, and give it a whirl. It’s really interesting to see how opinions change after growing up a bit, and going through three years of critical theory at University.
Let me know what you think of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’! Do you like Holden, or like me, find him unlikable to the high heavens?