Since my experiences with high school English played an important role in naming this self-publishing site, it only seems fitting that there is a bit of literature covered. Given the season, nothing like discussing a little summer reading. In the tradition of teenagers and required summer reading, the books discussed here are from American high school syllabi. The first book on the agenda is The Catcher in the Rye.
I first met Holden Caulfield sophomore year of high school. Upon introduction, I found the main character in The Catcher in the Rye to be moody, juvenile, and a bit of a whiner. I did not love or hate him, but definitely failed to fully connect with his situation. It is fair to say I was indifferent to him.
We certainly tried to connect. He continually shared his feelings, and I kept listening. In the end, it was a typical English classroom experience. I did the best I could with his lousy attitude, and learned and wrote about The Catcher in the Rye‘s core themes for my overly competitive English class. Afterwards, we barely communicated. For over a decade, my impressions of Holden were those of a high school sophomore. While I did attempt to reread the book two or three summers ago, I ended up starting and stopping. However, everything changed two week ago, when Holden and I met again.
Whereas my first experience with The Catcher in the Rye in high school put me on on a peer level with Holden, the second provided the opportunity to step back and see him differently. This time, I was no longer an adolescent, but an adult with perspective on teenage trials and tribulations. I had enough distance from adolescence to realize I might have judged him, and lacked an understanding of what he is going through. A teenager cannot fully understand another teenager. Now, a bit wiser, I set out to give Holden a second chance.
My second encounter was more about enjoying J.D. Salinger’s use of language. I gained a deeper appreciation of how Salinger successfully creates his main character. How he integrates the vocabulary throughout the book, constantly returning to the same words to create Holden’s perspective and to reinforce his thoughts. Beyond the words, Salinger utilizes repetition in pairs to magnify Holden’s growing issues. He has sentences back to back that are structured similarly and convey the same meaning. Often, they are basically the same with the second sentence being an expanded version of the first.
As far as connecting with Holden, the jury is still out and it may always be out. I was definitely more willing to take the journey this time. I had greater patience for his ramblings and choices. Perhaps my willingness had a lot to do with not remembering portions of the book. There was definitely a motivation factor to keep reading. I wanted to know what (mis)adventures he would go on next. I accepted Holden’s attitude and opinions to see where he would end up. When he reached the carousel at the end of the book, I felt what Holden is feeling. We connected for those few pages.
While Holden may never be a favorite, I have come to understand him better. I sympathize a bit more with his situation. If that is what I walk away with from this second encounter, then it was by no means a lousy experience. Whether Holden thinks this short piece is phony, well that is a whole different story.