Book club this afternoon and our book of the month is J.D.Salinger’s novel ‘Catcher in the Rye’; it is hailed as a classic of modern times… but written nearly seventy years ago, (the idea for it began in 1940 so it is even older!) it surely is no longer modern. Maybe a post-war classic would suit it better, a coming of age novel, an angry young man novel? Or maybe it’s a spoiled brat novel, a selfish, immature kid who throws his toys out of the pram and blames everything and everyone for his ‘angst’ and disappointments?
From this, you will gather that on re-reading I didn’t enjoy it and was shocked at how alienated I felt from the character and his adventures! Holden is a wealthy young man (fencing? a brother who is a script writer? exclusive boarding school? taxi cabs and hotel rooms?) and yes, he does have what amounts to a breakdown, but as I reread it I lost patience with him – sadly I confess because when I’d previously read it I’d had a very different opinion. So maybe it is a young person’s book – but these days would an ordinary young person in an ordinary situation empathise with Holden and his problems? I must find a young person to read it!
Here is something I wrote about coming back to books you used to love:
We were talking today about books we had loved when we originally read them and then were disappointed on reading them again.
‘Catcher in the Rye‘ by J.D. Salinger was a book I first read when I was about fourteen or fifteen, and although it was never a favourite, I did like it and put it on my ‘good book’ list. I read it again recently and was shocked and disappointed, shocked because I thought it just hadn’t stood the test of time; it seemed incredibly dated – yes, I know it was written sixty years ago but some books are timeless. I loved Salinger’s other books more, ‘Raise High the Roof-beam, Carpenter,’ ‘For Esmé—with Love and Squalor’, ‘Franny and Zooey’ – dare I reread them? Might I be disappointed with them too? Maybe ‘Catcher’ is a young person’s book, maybe if a fourteen year old read it now they would enjoy it as I did.
‘Catch-22‘ by Joseph Heller was my all-time favourite book for many years… I reread it a short while ago and really struggled to engage with it… again, maybe it is a book for the young! I still remember so many scenes from it and quote from it, and I still think it is a great book but I have changed as a reader. For some light reading I have been catching up with Agatha Christie recently; and I had mixed feelings. I think she is underrated as an author by some people, she was able to capture a character in a few lines, she did not shy away from risky subjects, child murderers, incest, sexual grooming of young people, adultery, and murder of course. I enjoyed the books I read again, but as I read them I wondered how much they would appeal to new readers, although the plots and characters are revisited again and again by TV and film makers.
I wonder if the reverse could also happen; I wonder if I read books I disliked on the first reading, whether I would appreciate them more? It didn’t happen with Thomas Hardy’s books, or Jane Austen, but I wonder if I might actually manage to finish ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin‘ by Louis de Bernières and enjoy it?