Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ode to J.D. Salinger

When I was about 10 years old, I read "Catcher in the Rye" cover to cover in one day.

It was summer and I was home alone during the day. We had a book shelf containing a battered set of classic books with shredding gray cloth hard covers. I had read most of the books on that shelf when I got to J.D. Salinger's masterpiece.

I started reading it early in the day in the living room downstairs, then I took it outside, then back to the living room, and finally up to my bedroom when the rest of the family came home. I remember the day turning to night and the night turning to early morning and I was still reading. I couldn't stop. The story touched me. At the time, I didn't know why, just that it was the best book I had ever read in my short little life.

I was never required to read this book at any point in my education so I didn't go back to it for many many years. I just remember that was the first "real" book that I had read in one day.

But one particular passage always stayed with me:
"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be."

In college, I bought a copy and read it again. And again. And again. I still couldn't put my finger on what it was about that book that resonated with me so deeply. It just made me feel...something.

Not too long ago, I was on the train on my way home and I sat down next to a young girl - probably about 18 - who commented on the book I was reading at the time, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. She said she had read it for school, I said I was reading it for pleasure, it wasn't my favorite genre but I like to read all kinds of books. She asked what my favorite book was. "Catcher in the Rye" I said without hesitation. She mentioned that she had read it for school also, but couldn't understand why everyone thought it was such a great book. She said it was sad and made her feel depressed.

And that's when it hit me. It wasn't the individual words or the story that was so powerful, but simply the provocation of feelings. That book put my secret deep-down feelings into words. Melancholy, aloneness, aloofness, alienation, strong familial love, wanting to save the ones who hurt before they hurt, self-loathing, anger towards the unfair world around us, desperation, failure, and excitement to be anywhere but here.


J.D. Salinger passed away yesterday - January 27, 2010 - at the age of 91.


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