A different get together with my book club

These are the times when friends can’t meet. This evening our book club got together – not in person but on Zoom. The book we were discussing was ‘The Flatey Enigma’ by Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, and although there were different shades of liking, we all enjoyed it, but more importantly we all enjoyed being together, even if it was via a screen! It made me think about our normal meetings, and here’s something I wrote about a book we shared some time ago, and shared in each other’s company with a glass, or maybe two of wine!

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?

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