Culling The Classics: The Catcher in the Rye
It is alleged that there are over eight million books available on Amazon.com. Eight million. That means that even if you read one entire book per day for 100 years, you'd still only be 0.4565% of the way towards reading everything that Amazon has to offer. And that doesn't include any books that might be written next year, or the year after that, or any other of those 100 years. And remember, that's just Amazon. There are plenty of harder to track down old, out of print, and foreign works that would have to be added to the list as well.
Suffice it to say that, despite your very best efforts, you will not have time to read everything before you die. But if that's the case, how can you possibly know what books are worth your precious few reading moments? How do you choose? Do you go with what's popular today? There are hundreds of YA novels published every year, so strike that idea. Bestsellers? The New York Times has been running its Best Sellers list since 1942, so that's still a lot to digest. What about the classics? Aren't those important? The classics, hmm—now we're getting somewhere…
Classics are works that have withstood the crashing waves of fleeting fame and remained popular for years, decades, even centuries. Classics are literary opuses that have reputations for changing people's lives, inspiring imitation and tattoo space to no end. Classics are books that everyone is supposed to have read at some point. The only problem: they've been piling up for half a millennia, so there are still thousands to choose from. Luckily, we here at LitReactor have decided to sift through scores and scores of classic tomes in order to give you a better idea of what to mark as To-Read and what to toss aside, starting with everybody's favorite high school English requirement.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown and Company, 1951).
Roughly 65 million copies sold (Top 20 all-time); Goodreads rating of 3.76; #64 (board) and #19 (readers) on Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list.
The Spoiler-Free Skinny
J.D. Salinger's timeless tale of adolescent angst begins innocently enough with a young student, 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, wondering what to do with himself at the end of the fall term. Holden's been kicked out of school (again), but he's still got a couple of days to kill before the letter bearing the official notice of his removal reaches his parents in their posh Manhattan apartment. Being a teenager of means, Holden decides to spend a few days in New York on his own, enjoying his final days of freedom before his parents find out about his most recent misdeeds.
You'll Love It
Holden Caulfield is one of the most interesting narrators of the last century. J.D Salinger makes post-war New York City come alive through the meandering thoughts and misadventures of his main character. Through Caulfield, the book is thoughtful, emotional, and entirely unafraid of tackling difficult teenaged topics like bullying, suicide, sexuality, and depression. If you enjoy strong narrators with unique voices, you'll love it. If you enjoy quirky stream of consciousness prose, you'll love it. If you're a huge fan of books about gifted but troubled young adults like those in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, you'll love it. If you're a teenager, you'll love it.
You'll Loathe It
Holden Caulfield is also one of the most insufferable little spoiled brats the human mind has ever conceived of. He's extremely intelligent, but he's constantly being kicked out of various boarding schools for his poor grades and bad attitude. He's a hero who is at times very hard to like, understand, or in any way connect with unless you are also a self-centered rich kid who can't figure out why the world wants you to make an effort. And he whines. A lot. Further complicating the matter, the book has no discernable plot and only the vaguest hint of a resolution. The narration wanders because the narrator wanders, and the book has as much ADD as Holden. If you prefer a clear plot and steady forward motion in your reading, you'll loathe it. If you can't stand protagonists who would generally be annoying to be around in the real world, you'll loathe it. If you aren't a fan of excessive cursing, colloquialism, or conversational narration, you'll loathe it. If you're already an adult, you'll loathe it.
Read It Or Leave It?
Unfortunately, this one's extremely tough to call. Anyone who fell in love with The Catcher in the Rye in high school will swear up and down that it'll change your life, but most people who don't read it until well after college will probably suggest it's best set aside. The real question, then, is what those in between should do. Honestly, it's skip-able. Once you've passed beyond your more rebellious years, this book has little to offer. In no way is The Catcher in the Rye absolutely required life reading for anyone who has already managed to survive into their twenties. If you're looking for a teen angst tome with which to address some lingering emotional issues, the already-moderately-outdated The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a better and more current vehicle. If you've read that one, you don't really need The Catcher in the Rye, too. Of course, if you do decide to give it a try anyway, on the plus side it's only about 200 pages, and each of its 26 chapters are mercifully short, so it's easy to break the book into digestible pieces.
Teens, read it; adults, leave it; everyone else, you might as well flip a coin.
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