I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."
His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation. (source)
I've heard that this a book that you have to read during a certain window of time in your teen years, or you won't appreciate it. Maybe that's true, but to be honest, I don't think that I personally would have enjoyed it even as a teenager. Even so, I'm glad that I read it simply because it's a classic and there are so many cultural references to it that I think that you kind of have to read it at some point... but my goodness, am I glad that I don't have to go back and read it again now that I'm done!
I read this for my Resources for Young Adults course that I start next week. The reason that the book was assigned is clear - this is one of the most famous young adult novels of all time. It's resonated with teens for decades and it's considered to be very well-written and insightful. Personally, I disagree with both of these descriptions, but the main problem that I had with the book is Holden Caulfield himself.
I very, very strongly disliked Holden. He's a character who, if I were to meet him in real life, I'm pretty sure I'd want to shake because he's so annoying. My biggest frustration with him was that he complains about various problems in his life, but most of them are his own fault. Flunking out of school? He didn't study. Classmate won't leave him alone? Holden invites him to hang out even when he's sick of him. Roommate beat him up? Holden called him a moron and a whole slew of other insults. And this is all just within the first fifty pages. Holden makes some of the most idiotic choices that I've ever seen a character make, and then wonders why his life isn't going well. We know from the beginning that he's in some sort of psychoanalytic therapy, so obviously he's not the most rational character out there. But I think I would have been a little more patient with him if Salinger had specified what exactly it is that makes Holden act the way he does. In many ways, Holden reminded me of the narrator in Perks of Being a Wallflower, and while that character annoyed me, he didn't annoy me as much because Stephen Chbosky finally gave us a tangible reason for why he acted the way that he did. Salinger doesn't really, so I was simply perpetually annoyed by Holden without ever being given an explanation as to why that was. It didn't help that Holden would go off on long tangents about random things - there were many instances where he'd rant for paragraphs that were multiple pages long!
There's a statement in the description of the book jacket for my copy of this book that I think sums up my feelings about Holden Caulfield and this book in general perfectly: "the boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story." I definitely think that this is true. This book is so beloved by so many people that I feel like I'm missing something - and if this is the case, someone please let me know so I can have that moment of clarity, haha - but I really don't understand what the point of it was and I didn't particularly like the story in general. Again, I'm glad that I read it simply because it's so culturally important. But this is not a book that I will be revisiting.