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12/30 Day Book Meme: Diminishing Marginal Satisfaction

In which I reflect upon a book whose appeal has dwindled over time.

Day 12: A book you used to love but don’t anymore

The question that applies to authors would be easier to answer. So many books fall into this category—books I read and have long forgotten. One book in particular of which the appeal has faded over the years: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I’ve read it three times over the year, first required in 9th grade. It follows Holden Caulfield over the course of three days after he leaves Pencey Prep before he goes home in New York. He’s a borderline teenager from wealthy, privileged family who is flunking out of school. He decides to take a break in Manhattan while his parents digest the news of his expulsion before his scheduled arrival home for Christmas holiday. The book has achieved American classic status before I was born so there’s no doubt about its influence to young readers for years to come. For me, the book holds not as much appeal to me as I grow older and re-read partly because I am no longer that flighty teenager who can relate to Holden Caulfield’s colloquial style and his predilection to adventure. The book hangs over a sense of caprice with which Holden Caulfield improvises his random encounter with people from school. He is utterly lonely because I do not recall more than a couple occasions when he mentions friends. I do wonder if kids who are more wired and connected than my generation, ever find the same loneliness.

19 Responses

  1. I think kids do have a tendency of feeling more lonely these days…i always see them hooked up to some gadget or the other…hanging by their thumbs for dear life!
    i think texting is the new chitchat…sooner or later we are all going to see kids looking at each other and then whipping out their phones and texting. HI!! LOL!

    • I saw a mother leaving her 4th-grader son to his iPad and chatting on the phone herself outside the coffee shop. The whole time the kid was left to fend for himself. By the time she was back, she scolded him for playing video game. What do you expect when you don’t even spend with him and leave him with a gadget?

  2. I like ‘The Catcher In The Rye’, but I think that J D Salinger is possibly the only writer to have become famous having his ‘teen angst’ novel published. I’ve taught this book to sixteen year olds for literature exams and they tended to think that Holden was immature. I do have an all time favourite quote from this book. ‘The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause. The mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.’ I think this advice from Holden’s brother in law sums up, even defines, the attitude change that indicates that we have matured beyond our ‘teenage angst’. Which indicates that Salinger does capture, possibly for the first time in literature, the essence of being a teenager, even if for the present teen generation it is a little dated. Colin McInness ‘Absolute Beginners’ charting the beginning of the ‘teen revolution’ of the fifties and sixties is in a similar position; a well written account of teenage turbulence, but a bit dated for a modern teenage audience.

    • And Salinger has succeeded in creating that voice of a teenager who is rebellious, lonely and confused. He has no idea what he wants to do. He hates the prep school his parents put him into, and all he wants is to break away. I think I don’t receive the book with as much solicitude as I used to because I have outgrown that teenager angst. By the way, I have to check out Colin McInness.

  3. This is definitely in this category for me. It’s a great classic and I think one that most teens and young adults should read. It has its audience, for sure, though.

    • After I wrote this post I also thought of Lord of the Flies, which I have not read and have avoided all these years. Maybe I’m way too old for boy adventure?

  4. This book is on one of my challenge list. There are books whose appeal fades and there are those whose appeal increases. I can’t recollect presently a book in the former but for the latter I would choose Gormenghast.

  5. I completely understand your choice here. I re-read Catcher last year when I heard that Salinger had passed away. Despite having named it one of my favorite books for quite some time, I found myself more than a little annoyed by it and definitely didn’t feel like it held the same magic as it had when I’d read it before. I don’t think it’s a case of it not having aged well, more that I am now a very different person than I was the first few times I read it (namely, I’m more likely to have a Holden Caulfield of my own than be him!)… I really think this is one of those books that needs to be read during a certain time and place in one’s life.

    • I remember the book being so different, so refreshing when I first read it in high school. I had never read anything like that ever, despite the slightly profane language. Like you have said, I think I have outgrown Holden Caulfield’s problems and position as I have aged. The Catcher in the Rye appeals to teenagers more so than people in any other station in life.

  6. I agree! While I loved the book as a kid, I now find Holden Caulfield really whiny!

  7. This is one that I wish I would have read for the first time as a teenager. I just read it last year and didn’t relate as much as I might have to some of the things in the novel. My 17 year old son, on the other hand, read it recently and LOVED it.

    • See what I mean when I said this book is meant to be read at a certain period of life. The voice and the psyche really appeal to teenagers who are at the crossroad of their lives–puberty, responsibility, going to college, coming of age.

  8. I’ll bet they do. I don’t think technology is ever going to change the essence of childhood. I liked this book as a kid but doubt I woudl now. Some books are meant to be read at that age and don’t age with the reader.

    • Video games can never replace those summer canoeing trips and family times. When I was a boy that was the beginning of Atari video game. I was never into it, usually sat on the sandbag with a book.

  9. How extraordinary that “Catcher in the Rye” was required reading for your 9th grade class. When I chose CITR as an alternate selection in my own 9th grade class, back in the day (God help us the 1970’s), my English teacher declared it unacceptable as she deemed Holden Caulfield mentally disturbed. Can you believe it? One of the most acclaimed books of the 20th century and she found it objectionable. This in a public school classroom in the New York suburbs – not some backwoods school.

    Be a rebel — read banned books.

  10. […] 12: A book you used to love but don’t anymore The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. […]

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