…I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around–nobody big, I mean–except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff–I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.
I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time when I was in 10th grade. I don’t remember if I picked it up of my own accord, or if it was one of the many books my father passed on to me, recommending I give it a read. All I know is that upon finishing it, I knew I would never read a better book. I’ve now read it more times than I can count, and although I wouldn’t have initially thought it possible, my love for the book has only grown deeper as the years have passed.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t read it. What strikes me as weird, though, is that I’ve also never met anyone else who really cares to talk that much about it. I admit that it’s something of a cliché to say that The Catcher in the Rye is your favorite book, but at the same time… well, how could it not be?
The book reads like a brief retelling of a series of events that led to the hospitalization of the narrator, Holden Caulfield. He’s been kicked out of prep school for the umpteenth time, and appears to be without ambition or direction of any kind. He has a difficult relationship with his parents, but a loving one with his younger sister, Phoebe. His other two siblings, Allie and D.B., are both somewhat absent from the narrative–Allie having died a few years earlier, and D.B. living in on the other side of the country in Hollywood. Because he doesn’t want his parents to know he’s been kicked out of school again, he spends a few days wandering aimlessly around New York City, waiting for what would have been the beginning of his winter break, so that he can go home without arousing his parents’ suspicion.
Every time I read it, I stumble across one more thing about it that blows my mind, from the tiniest details, like Holden getting upset when he comes across a vulgar phrase written on the wall in Phoebe’s school, to the overall narrative, in which Salinger captures his main character’s inner monologue so well that it’s hard to believe that Holden isn’t real.
So what is it, exactly, that gives people pause when it comes to talking about Catcher? I’ve discussed a lot of books with a lot people, and yet I’ve never met anyone who wants to have an in-depth discussion about this one. I once read my fiancé my favorite passage, and when I finished, he was silent. After a minute or two, we moved on to a different topic of conversation altogether. What gives?
Is it because the book is so well known? Is it taken for granted because it’s assigned in every high school English class? Is it flat out dismissed for that reason? The plot and the language are simple— does this mean people think of it as unworthy of intellectual attention? Or is it that some of the themes are now so played out as to appear almost hackneyed?
Whatever the reason, I frequently find myself wishing I had someone with whom I could discuss the book. Instead, though, I find meandering through a maze of people who either don’t understand or don’t agree— oddly, my love of The Catcher in the Rye puts me in much the same situation as the book’s protagonist: isolated, alone, and trying to make sense of a world that I don’t quite understand.