Monday, July 06, 2009

It Won't Be the First Time I've Been Called A Heretic

This afternoon, driving back from some programming in a nearby community, I listened to "Talk of the Nation" on NPR.  The discussion centered around J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" and a "sequel" by another author, the publication of which has been blocked by a court order initiated by Salinger.  The judge apparently agreed with the author that Salinger not only has rights to the book, but also to the insanely popular narrator Holden Caulfield.

It's an interesting case.  I suspect that the author of this "sequel" is some super-fan who thinks he understands Holden, and Salinger, enough to fancy this an homage.  I am doubtful that this is the case, frankly, because even as a superfan of several series of books, I've never actually tried to publish any tripe I may or may not have written in response to various books.  

But here's the thing, and I confess this aware that I'm about to commit literary heresy (and may imperil my future ability to get anything else published): I loathed Holden Caulfield.  I found him snobby and entitled, and found his so-called "idealism" a thin mask for his elitism.  He reminds me of what a seminary professor once said, that "despair is the privilege of the wealthy."  It's a broad brush, I'll admit, but in this case I think it applies to Mr. Caulfield.  I simply never had patience for him when I read the book as a teen, and I certainly did not understand why others would have been so connected to him.  With the self-righteousness of the poor, I felt like he was an ungrateful little brat who did not appreciate all the advantages his parents gave him.  There, I finally said it!

Reading the book in my early twenties, I thought I identified some clear signs of depression in Holden's character, which made me marginally more sympathetic to him.  I pitied him, rather than loathed him.  But when I hear the kind of hero-worship I heard expressed on NPR, it makes me angry at Holden all over again.  

I admit that what I remember of the book is itself well-written, and for that I certainly admire Mr. Salinger.  But the over-identification that so many have with Holden Caulfield just baffles and, I must admit, also angers me a little.  Now, I obviously wanted to understand the love of this young man, because I reread the book when I didn't have to.  And now I'm wondering if I should give it another shot.  

So I ask you, dear readers: should I read it again?  Will I appreciate Holden Caulfield more?  Will my appreciation for Salinger's deft use of language override my annoyance at Holden's thoughts and actions?  Or will my superior loathing continue unabated, confirming my prejudice?  Share your advice - and your thoughts about Holden Caulfield, "The Catcher in the Rye," and J.D. Salinger - in the comments.  I promise I won't hold any of your beliefs against you.  :)


Hannah said...

I've also been wondering if I should read it again. As a depressed - or, as it turns out - undignosed bipolar teen I identified with Holden. I wonder what I would think of him now as an adult. If you read it again please let us know!

LiturgyGeek said...

Hannah, I appreciate your comment, as you are the first I know who has connected their identification with Holden to depression/BPD. That's an identification that actually makes a great deal of sense to me; though I have not struggled with depression/BPD, my first husband did (and does), so I am familiar with some of the struggles.

I am leaning toward reading it again, so I will keep you posted. And can I also say that it's just a delight to be getting to know you between this blog and Jocelyn's? You are wise and full of good snark.

Hannah said...

Well, thank you! I think that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.

It is a delight for me to read your thoughts, your blog is often a moment of calm in my chaotic day.
And as the wife and granddaughter of Iowans I just can't resist an Iowan.

Lucky Fresh said...

I only read it the first time, 'cause I didn't like him either. There are enough whiny people in real life, yo.

Oooh, but just read the comments. Don't mean any disrespect to anyone. Would be interesting to see what Hannah (and LG) thinks of him now. I might like him better than I did then. I think I was in high school when I read it.