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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also a film journalist/critic for Cocktails & Movies and CinemaBlend, as well as the author of several short stories such as "The Devil v. George W. Bush". Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: mikereyeswrites@gmail.com

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Cannonball Read: Entry 17 - "The Catcher In The Rye" by J.D. Salinger

We're drawing to the close of the first ever Cannonball Read, if my calculations are correct. September 1st is the deadline, after which a new round of fun will begin. I look forward to possibly winning the whole ball of wax (if not, at least a 5K) next year. Until then, I'm basically winding down the clock by logging as many last minute entries as I can.

As usual, if anyone has suggestions, requests, or dedications, feel free to post them on the Comments Board. Once more, special thanks to Brian Prisco for allowing me, and all the others, to participate in this clusterfuck of literary wonderment. Here's where you can get the history of "The Run": http://www.pajiba.com/cannonball-read.htm, and here's where you can sign up to become one of the runners: http://gospelaccordingtoprisco.wordpress.com/choose-your-weapon-the-combatants/ Careful though, you might get published on Pajiba.com; and be open to the ridicule/admiration/unwanted or wanted sexual advances of the Eloquents. It's just how we roll.

I had a hard time writing this review. I'd finished the book about a good two or three days prior, but I've just had a hard time writing about it. It's not that this is a bad book, on the contrary, I believe it's a pretty good read. It's just...how much more can one say about "The Catcher in the Rye"? The problem with reviewing a classic is it's been done to death. Literary scholars have done it, armchair scholars, even kids in grade school who were "forced" to read it have analyzed this work. So how do you review a classic that's been reviewed to death? Simple: put a personal spin on it.

For the sake of those who aren't familiar with the basic story, I'll sum it up as quickly as possible. Holden Caufield gets kicked out of yet another prep school, and has a couple days before he has to face the music with his parents. In those couple days he'll wander around New York and begin a downward spiral that'll eventually lead to his needing to see a psychiatrist. You see, Holden has a problem with the world...it's made up of phonies. To him the world is a place of liars, thieves, whores, and tricksters. Even the people he does like tend to get on his nerves at times. Yet through all of this, Holden's great ambition in life is to be the catcher in the rye. The person standing on the edge of society, stopping its children from falling off the cliff with nothing but a huge catcher's mitt. The last line of defense between the harsh real world and his idealized view of the "real" world.

At least that's my take on the book's message. To me, Catcher in the Rye is the story of a young man who sees "beyond the veil". He looks past the world of childhood and into the world of adult life. What he sees is cold and uncompromising, something different from the days in his life where he could truly find joy. It's no coincidence Holden's a teenager, naturally because Salinger uses the great in-between as his canvas. Those teenage years define us so much. I find that everything, from our tastes in entertainment to our philosophies in life, is defined by these years we spend transitioning from the lives we came in with to the lives we're gonna go out with. To the unprepared, it's a scary time; and Holden Caufield is definitely unprepared. By the end of the book, the world has had its way with him because he hasn't truly grown up enough to realize how it all works. He's the stereotypical know-it-all teenager who thinks he's got the world figured out, and in the end he doesn't engage in some quirky adventure where he learns more about himself. He strolls the back alleys, frequents the seedy hotels, and drinks in the dive bars of New York. He's roughed up, insulted, and taught a hard lesson about life. It isn't fair or unfair, it isn't preset or preordained. It's what you perceive it to be.

For Holden Caufield, his perception influences his actions, his actions influence his life, and his life influences his perceptions. He's trapped in a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself with a fresh batch of hate, fear, and superiority. This cycle alienates him, gets him into trouble, and ultimately leads him to edge closer and closer to an eventual nervous breakdown. This is wild speculation from my high school years, where you always dig for that "deep" connection between the things you like, but I still believe Lester Burnham from American Beauty is a kindred spirit to Holden Caufield. Much like Holden, Lester eventually sees past the veil of lies his world is made up of. Only instead of bitter truth, Lester sees nothing but endless beauty. Catcher in the Rye is a bit dated, but it still tells a valid tale of teenage rebellion and the arrogance of youth. So long as there's teenagers in the world who think they've got it all sorted out, and so long as there's works of pop culture exploring those themes in adulthood as well, then this book will be in print for quite a while.

Next Time: King Dork by Frank Portman


Sarah The Anime Librarian said...

I love this book, but its weird how much I changed how I saw it from the first time I read it (I was 16) and when I re-read it a few years ago.

Hindi SMS said...

A good work of fiction with a sadist, pessimist and a juvenile protagonist. Read the book for a ride from a teenager's mindset and it will tickle you.
Most of you will read this book because probably you've read its name among the best novels of last century, but please know it that this book is a joyful ride that will lead you to nowhere.!