This week, coinciding with an in-depth biography of J.D. Salinger, a documentary about the nation’s most reclusive author was released. Here is, at long last, a glut of information about the author of one of the most-read, most-taught, most-famous novels in American history. And lord almighty do I hate that book.
As an English major and a life-long book nerd, I’ve always felt a burning shame when it comes to my hatred for “Catcher In The Rye.” But I’ve come to embrace my hatred (which mostly centers around our sulky narrator Holden) and, let me tell you, it’s freeing. Recently I was sitting around with some friends over drinks and we decided to play a little game. Pick the classic you hate the most. The one you most resent being forced to read in school. The book that, to you, truly feels like a bare-ass naked emperor that only you can see. Now say it out loud with as much vitriol as you can muster, but inject an F-bomb in there for added punch. Silly game? Maybe. Cathartic? Absolutely. So say it with me now, “Catcher In The F*CKING Rye” (or “Anna F*cking Karenina” or “Bartleby The F*cking Scrivener” or whichever tome it is that makes your blood boil).
Ahhhh, feels better, no? Because, to this day, the Cult of Catcher drives me insane. The Cult Of Catcher, I should clarify, is a phenomenon described by Frank Portman in one of my favorite books of the last decade, “King Dork.” The cover for said book is, in fact, a defaced copy of “Catcher In The Rye.”
In Portman’s novel, our disaffected, youthful narrator, Tom Henderson describes Salinger’s classic as follows:
“I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties.
It is every teacher’s favorite book. The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield. For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a real dreamboat. They love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him, and with the book’s author, too, and they’d probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives when they were young. As kids, they carried it with them everywhere they went. They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.
It’s kind of like a cult.
They live for making you read it. When you do read it you can feel them all standing behind you in a semi-circle wearing black robes with hoods, holding candles. They’re chanting “Holden, Holden, Holden…” And they’re looking over your shoulder with these expectant smiles, wishing they were the ones discovering the earth-shattering joys of Catcher in the Rye for the very first time.”
Is that it, English teachers of America? Is that why we read “Catcher In The Rye?” Or is it some sort of elaborate joke? Are you so fed up with being surrounded by pretentious, loathsome teenagers all day long that you were dying to hold this kid up to us? This Lord High Douchebag, Holden Caufield, who serves as an ungainly mirror to our sulkiest most self-indulgent qualities?
Because, let’s be honest, the problem with “Catcher In The Rye” isn’t Salinger, or his writing. He was magnificent and the voice he achieved in Holden is as masterfully clear as it is grating. No the problem is with the people who just don’t get it. Who think of Holden as Our Hero. That’s a fine interpretation when you’re 16 (I guess), but if you’re an adult who still worships Holden, you’ve got problems. And I suspect you read Charles Bukowski. And that’s the most damning thing you could possibly do. So get over it, Troy Dyers of the world, and worship Salinger not Holden, the biggest phony of them all.