The Catcher in the Rye : Thank you, J.D. Salinger

by |January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger has died but his wonderful books will live on. Yes, he wrote more than just The Catcher in the Rye.

I thank him for them.

I, like millions of other readers, love The Catcher in the Rye.

But The Catcher in the Rye is one of those unfortunate books whose every word must bear the weight of forty or so years of school room scrutiny, of misapplied adulation, of misdirected anger and the burden of learned and unlearned nostalgia.

No book can survive such mythologising intact, as it was written, as it was meant to be read. I’m sure the book was chosen for a school text for a very simple reason, it might appeal to teenagers. But what has happened to it since, poor book, is that for many people, it is the one book they remember reading, ever, and so it is given a more important role in their lives than is the book’s due.

So when we come to read it, having seen it on people’s best books lists, of having heard of it as the books in John Lennon’s murderer’s hand, of its being mentioned umpteen times on every known media source, the poor book reveals itself as it really is, a book which might appeal to teenagers.

It is a wonderful book, don’t get me wrong. And because I read it as a teen it will stay with me forever. Happily so…

I love the scene between Holden and the two nuns he meets in the train station:

The one next to me, with the iron glasses, said she taught English and her friend taught history and American government. Then I started wondering like a bastard what the one sitting next to me, that taught English, thought about, being a nun and all, when she read certain books for English. Books not necessarily with a lot of sexy stuff in them, but books with lovers and all in them. Take old Eustacia Vye, in The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. She wasn’t too sexy or anything, but even so you can’t help wondering what a nun maybe thinks about when she reads about old Eustacia. I didn’t say anything, though, naturally. All I said was English was my best subject.

And Holden’s wonderful take on writing:

I read a lot of classical books, like The Return of the Native and all, and I like them, and I read a lot of war books and mysteries and all, but they don’t knock me out too much. What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though. I wouldn’t mind calling this Isak Dinesen up. And Ring Lardner, except that D.B. told me he’s dead. You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, though. I read it last summer. It’s a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn’t want to call Somerset Maugham up. I don’t know, he just isn’t the kind of guy I’d want to call up, that’s all. I’d rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.

Both excerpts are from J.D. Salinger’sThe Catcher in the Rye

Thank you, Mr Salinger.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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