Catcher Caught?

Catcher-in-the-rye-red-cover

So, this is the sort of thing that really ticks
me off. It's a piece that uses the recent lawsuit by J.D. Salinger as a
jumping off point to announce that "there are signs that Holden may be
losing his grip on the kids."
There are so many things that irritate me about this it's hard for me
to grasp the central one. First, as if—as if he used to have a "grip on
the kids," as if that was ever the point, as if it used to be that all
kids were crazy about him and now they're not.
That's not what the book is about, it's not what books are about in general.
The
writer even goes so far as to take a quick ride on the old "kids today
are different" bus.  Behold:  "teenagers seem more interested in
getting into Harvard than in flunking
out of Pencey Prep. Young people, with their compulsive text-messaging
and hyperactive pop culture metabolism, are more enchanted by
wide-eyed, quidditch-playing Harry Potter of Hogwarts…."
This
whole thing manages  first, to disparage humanity by buying into some
manufactured culture-wide stereotype about kids (today they're
conservative and striving—and what? Were they all wild and rebellious
in the 1950s? Really?), while at the same time giving a back-handed smack to
poor Harry Potter, who did nothing more than be popular enough to
require an inane explanation in an article that purports to figure out
what sorts of heroes kids go for. Wide-eyed? No, it's just not true. I
have my own issues and questions about Harry Potter, but this is just
inaccurate, and was solely tossed in there to support the other point.
A trumped up faux feud between two fictional characters, let's see who wins!
Let's see who's the most popular! Grrr.
It just…gets to me.
Holden Caulfield was not created to
serve as some hero to inspire all kids; he's a misfit now, he was a
misfit then. He's not supposed to be popular. For heaven's sake, that's
the whole narrative thrust of the book. Some kids will connect, others
won't. Are we really so lacking in nuance as a species that we can't
accept that? Does it have to result in stories about a cultural shift?
Really? And do we have to use his "popularity" (a term as sickening to
me now as it was in 7th grade) as a referendum on the worth of a novel?
Why does whether kids today "like him" have to be the main referendum about the book?
There was also something in the tone of the piece that made the writer sound
so very pleased about this purported change in Holden Caulfield's fortunes.
Or maybe pleased about how out of touch grown-ups and previous lovers of
the book are? I'm not quite sure which. But the writer's very glee about the whole thing made it stick in my craw all the more.
And I know—I know, an inconsequential article about a book that's in the news
now. That's all it was, right? But hoo boy it grated.

6 thoughts on “Catcher Caught?

  1. I am sort of shocked that Catcher is assigned reading in English classes. Not that I think it shouldn’t be for any concrete reason, it’s just, how can that work. It’s like listening to The Wall in orchestra class. The whole point of Catcher is a rebellious, anti-establishment feeling. How can you get that being forced to read it in class.
    I think that Holden will always be incomprehensible to some and a touchstone to others. And yes, it’s dated. It was dated when I read it. But, really, what isn’t. It’s a classic. Classics are dated.

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  2. I love your blog. And I wholeheartedly feel that you are entitled to be pissed off about that article.
    There is no room for timid emotions, where books are concerned.
    Especially when some journalist decides to air his or her grievances about Holden and Harry because they’re bitter about not being able to cut it as an English major at Fill-in-the-Overpriced-Understaffed-University.
    I’m only guessing. At least you were more diplomatic than I.
    Also, to address the comment above, I think Catcher in the Rye is assigned reading in class because otherwise students might not be exposed to it. I agree that shoving books down a kid’s throat is silly and futile. But maybe the spirit of that assignment was better intended.
    CITR is one of the most heavily banned books in the United States. I think any teacher that encourages banned reading material is doing something right.

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  3. I agree with you, it’s an annoying article. Seems to me that the author really wants Catcher in the Rye to be out of date, regardless of whether it is or not.And the comparison with Harry Potter isn’t exactly fitting…
    Never trust anyone who claims that today’s youth is SO different from yesterday’s!

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  4. That article struck me as a really unkind piece (theirs, not yours). Perhaps there are some valid points there–that the language can feel dated to today’s readers, that it was written in a time when there weren’t many places for teenagers to turn for cultural touchtones. But overall, the point seemed to be that the book doesn’t deserve its “classic” status. Which is deeply unfair, not least because I don’t think I see it represented much as a “classic.” For me (and I did read it in school, though my first discovery of it was, gloriously, a battered copy on my parents’ bookshelf), it was a slightly illicit discovery that feelings of confusion, alienation, and frustration were not new. I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. And even if I never went to prep school or had a camel hair coat, the fundamental experience was familiar to me.
    I haven’t yet read your thoughts on Harry Potter, so I don’t know where you stand with that phenomenon, but again the tone of their comparison was insulting. It’s like suggesting that people who actually like Monet are unintelligent, because anything that’s popular can’t possibly be good. Harry has his good points, and Holden has his. The value in living in a culture that is full of reading opportunities is that we can choose those we connect with, and those we don’t like can still exist for others.
    That was long; sorry. But I guess I get worked up over some things!

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  5. Agreed — I thought this “review” or whatever the hell it was was really superficial and sort of stupid. And in an irreverent way, I could care less about a sequel to the book — I loved it when I first read it and always will — and have no interest in reading anything not written by Salinger about the same thing —

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