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If a Body Catch a Body Coming Through the Rye...

  • Jan 31, 2010
"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'd 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. I know it's crazy."
--J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye


J.D. Salinger is actually a hard man to write about.  I rather like his work (I'll give you two guesses as to what is my favorite but you'll only need one), but finding out things about the man is actually a little hard.  There's info out there, but it's no secret that he was a fairly reserved man who kept to himself for quite some time. 

I first came to J.D. Salinger like so many people did.  In school.  Although I wasn't forced to read The Catcher in the Rye as a sophomore back then.  I was a teacher's assisstant to fill time, and I spent much of my time in the English department.  While I was there I read a couple of things.  Not a whole lot.  I read The Scarlet Letter and Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was somehow more enjoyable to read those books on my own rather than having a teacher walk me through them.  I had a lot more fun that way.  Although I never became a fan of the first two books, I did grow to really like To Kill a Mockingbird.  And I didn't think I'd find much else in the English department that I'd like as much (although some of the Shakespeare came close) Harper Lee's novel.  Then I came across The Catcher in the Rye because the teacher I was assissting had to teach it to a class.  She had a big box filled with copies she was to hand out to her students.  At the time I was a junior and they didn't teach that book to juniors.  On the other hand, I asked her if I could take a copy home and she let me.  I recall wanting to do so because the first sentence grabbed me.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

That was how I came to discover J.D. Salinger.  Of course, The Catcher in the Rye is his greatest work.  Considerably, anyway.  And while a lot of people find it overrated, it has remained one of my all time favorite books since reading it and one of the most influential pieces of literature ever written.  I rarely delight in reading a book so many times, but with The Catcher in the Rye, I did.  What is the meaning behind Salinger's work?  Well, he never told anyone.  There's a concensus that's agreed upon, but Salinger never actually told anyone just what the significance behind the work was.

The Catcher in the Rye became so well loved that Salinger often faced crazed fans who enjoyed that Salinger "understood" them.  There's one story in particular about a fan pretending to be sick in front of his place of residence pretending she was dying so that she'd be able to get to talk with him (the idea was that Salinger would come out of his home and help her) but it never happened.  He never came out.  Salinger, according to what little we could dig up on him, was probably not much of a people person.  Especially upon writing The Catcher in the Rye.  As the book became more popular (and controversial) Salinger receeded from the public eye.  This is where talking about Salinger becomes a little tough because so little is known about him.  We know he fought in World War II and that Ernest Hemingway had a huge influence on him. 

We also know that he never published anything after 1965.  Salinger was so reclusive that to learn much of anything about him is often amazing for fans.  I haven't found too much about Salinger.  In spite of my curiosity.  Often big name authors have a lot you can find.  People like Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, etc. often have a lot you can find.  Then again, they also produced a bit of work.  Salinger didn't produce too much more following The Catcher in the Rye.  Some authors have only one book hey ever write that becomes very signigicant (Harper Lee) but Salinger actually isn't one of those writers.  But he's a curious man who, for the most part, was best described as a grown up version of Holden Caulfield.  Now that Salinger is gone will there be a chance to discover more about him?  Perhaps, but I kind of enjoy not knowing too much about who he was... it allows me to look at his work without thinking I should be reading into it to see just what he's trying to say. 

Salinger was also pretty good at doing Holden Caulfield justice for certain.  Salinger, throughout his entire life, never sold the rights to The Catcher in the Rye to be a film.  This is why you haven't seen one.  Many directors have expressed interest but Salinger was very firm on never releasing the rights.  Salinger described the book as a very "novel novel."  By that he meant that much of the magic of The Catcher in the Rye was Holden Caulfield's thoughts, his asides and, for the most part, his random ramblings.  There was one point when Salinger considered a stage show, but for the most part he never wanted a movie.  Although with Salinger now passed away, it's possible that one of his family members may sell the rights instead.  We'll have to see, but one thing is for certain, Salinger was dead certain that The Catcher in the Rye wouldn't make a good movie.

Of course, there is more besides The Catcher in he Rye.  He had a collection of short stories he released that primarily centered on the Glass family.  And he released Franny and Zooey.  And while they're not nearly as well respected as Catcher in the Rye (nor do they continue to sell nearly as much per year) they're actually some pretty good works as well.  I've read Nine Stories and admittedly I haven't read Franny and Zooey just yet.  But it's also still in print and also gets a lot of buzz.  The Nine Stories are fun, but not quite as fun as Catcher in the Rye.  Yet Salinger did seem to have a definitive writing style.  He was, at one point, very interesting to young readers because he had a knack for honesty and because he often stuck adolescents in his work.  Throughout his work he often focused on inner monologues and thoughts, asides and random musings.  This is also part of the reason some may be turned off of Salinger's work.  It may not seem as though he's getting to the point.  Although, it seems that really IS the point of some of his stories.  Is to forcus on those sorts of things.  To see the world through the eyes of many of his adolescent characters. 

Perhaps the biggest theme in the midst of his stories was how his adolescent characters saw the world of "Phoney Adults," and (particularly in The Catcher in the Rye) that dream of not wanting to grow up.  As Salinger wrote and lived it's hard not to wonder if Salinger was in that same boat that didn't want to grow up as well.  We can only imagine.  With Salinger being so reclusive it's easy to know OF him but not exactly easy to know just who he was.

Salinger passed away on January 27, 2010 in his apartment.  He died of natural causes and according to the papers--apparently didn't suffer.  He was in fine health throughout the remaining decades of his life... and also in isolation.  Nevertheless, if you were one of the millions who enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye you still have it to read again.  If you were one of the millions who enjoyed Franey and Zooey, you've still got that.  You can also still enjoy those Nine Stories.  Perhaps J.D. Salinger himself is gone, but the man just might have reached immortality through his works.  He was a really good writer and really influential to many. 

With Salinger gone there are rumors of lost manuscripts and that perhaps someday they'll be published.  It's no secret that Salinger continued to write even after withdrawing from the public eye.  The question soon becomes would Salinger want us to see these?  We don't actually know.  And in some ways I think I'd be content never knowing of these projects.  If Salinger didn't want us to see them while he was living (albeit for some bizarre reasons) I doubt he ever really wanted to release them.  So will we see some of those works published? 

Who knows?

Nevertheless, an influential author died and his work will most definitely outlive him.  I can't say whether or not we'll be reading The Catcher in the Rye 100 years from now, but the influence of the book and its strong cult following is something that can't be denied.  It's just too bad he withdrew from the public eye that we didn't get to see more from him in the second half of the 20th century.

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February 25, 2010
Amazing review!!! This helped me out on my paper (of course, I gave the credit to you). Keep it up!!!
February 01, 2010
I too read The Scarlet Letter and To Kill a Mockingbird (still one of my favorites) in High School. I have actually never read Catcher in the Rye, but I don't mind jumping on the bandwagon these days. Plus your review is inspiration enough to give it a read. Great work Sean!
February 01, 2010
Nice work as always, Sean. You always impress me with these types of reviews.
February 01, 2010
I have never read this book but it aounds interesting.
February 01, 2010
As always, really great review, Sean.  Reading this brought back a ton of memories of reading J.D. Salinger books.  The Catcher in the Rye was assigned to me in both high school and college.  I can't say that it was my favorite book of all time, but I definitely liked the character of Holden Caulfield and found him to be completely relateable.  This is probably the reason why I'm so intrigued by J.D. Salinger, because I imagine that Holden is merely an extension of him. 

I really like how all cover art of the book are really bland and that he never allowed a film version of the book to be made.  It would have ruined the legacy of the book.  By the way, ever hear of Joyce Maynard?  She was J.D. Salinger's pen pal when she was 18 and he was 53.  Then they ended up meeting up and shacking up for a year until he broke up with her.  She recounts it in one of her memoirs, At Home in the World.  Really interesting to see her point of view of him and the situation.  Check it out if you haven't yet.  Thanks for sharing this, Sean :)
February 01, 2010
Very good review. I too wasn't instructed to read "Catcher In The Rye" at school, unfortunately. I didn't read it until a younger sibling had to read it for school. I've been wanting to read his other works for some time now. He will definitely be missed, and he would definitely appreciate this tribute.
More J.D. Salinger reviews
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
Boy do I love Salinger.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
great author
Quick Tip by . January 28, 2010
R.I.P. J.D. Salinger. Thank you for all your great contributions to the literary world.
review by . December 05, 2008
The Cather in the Rye is perfectly fine. A great book, actually -- pretty spectacular. However, my love for Salinger stems from one thing and it's the Glass family, the remarkably dysfunctional and quirky family that is the center of much of Salinger's work. In fact, it's said that one of these fictional characters, "Buddy" is actually the author of Cather in the Rye.    New to the Glass Family works? Start with Franny and Zooey. It's  a short, fun read that will seem shockingly …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Jerome David "J. D." Salinger (January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American author, best known for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, as well as his reclusive nature. His last original published work was in 1965; he gave his last interview in 1980.

Raised in Manhattan, Salinger began writing short stories while in secondary school, and published several stories in the early 1940s before serving in World War II. In 1948 he published the critically acclaimed story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his subsequent work. In 1951 Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year.

The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny: Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953), a collection of a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961), and a collection of two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled "Hapworth 16, 1924," appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.

Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted ...
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