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miércoles, 30 de marzo de 2011

The Catcher in the Rye: a controversial and wonderful book

I am very happy that I am writing this entry. This book used to be my favorite when I was a teenager. It was given to me as a present (by my sister or my mother, can't remember), and I just loved it. I first read it in Spanish, then bought it in English and read it two more times. That was many years ago. Recently, a good friend of mine, Alberto, told me that he had read it and asked me what I thought of it. What do I think of it? Damn, I can't remember! Given that I have an awful memory and that I read so long ago, I just remembered that I liked it. Alberto also asked me that he didn't understand why the book was so controversial (John Lennon's murderer had a worn copy of the book on him when he was arrested after the murder). So in order to find out what made this book so controversial I decided to read it again.

You know, I was a bit afraid of reading the book one more time. If often happens to me that, when rereading a book I haven't read in a long time, I find it much duller than the first time. Although I guess that's normal. When we are young we are easily impressed, and the older we get, the more we have read and so we get picky. But I didn't want to find The Catcher in the Rye a dull book. Although not remembering the contents so well, I did remember how much I enjoyed the book as a kid. Back then I didn't like reading much. I remember my father making all possible efforts so that I would start reading. My father read a lot, and wanted me to share his passion. At the beginning he wasn't successful, so he bribed me. He promised that one day we would travel to New York (which we actually ended doing), and told me that he would give me one American dollar for each book I read. So I had to do a summary of the book I read before getting those dollars that made me feel rich and also made me dream of the day we would travel to New York. Anyway, what I am trying to say is, in a time when I didn't enjoy reading that much, The Catcher in the Rye was one of those books that made me feel the way I do now about literature (I endep up studying literature at college). So you can imagine what a terrible disappointment it would be to find out some years later that the book was actually a piece of crap.

But this has not been the case. One more time, I have really enjoyed the book. I am a very slow reader, but I was through with it in a couple of days. And whereas the plot is not much (some thoughts and events spread out in a few days that happened to a confused teenager), I found the book outstanding in its purpose: describing the essence of adolescence.

Now I will focus on analyzing shortly why the book has been such a controversial one and a source of inspiration for people such as Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's murderer.

Someone has to be very pissed at the world to ruin his life by killing someone. Just like the protagonist of the book, Holden Caulfield. It has not been difficult for me to feel myself identified with him, and the book was published more than fifty years ago! Part of the success of this book lies in the fact that it is very easy for the reader to understand everything Holden is going through, all his contempt for the superficial and hypocrite society he lives in:

(talking about girls he is looking at while waiting for a date sitting on a couch):

You  figured most of them would probably marry dopey guys. Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to a gallon in their goddam cars. Guys that get sore and childish as hell if you beat them at golf, or in just some stupid game like ping-pong. Guys that are very mean. Guys that never read books. Guys that are very boring.

But while Holden is continuously complaining about pretty much everyone he comes across, he does also acknowledge his own faults, and that makes him a credible character (unlike those in Norwegian Wood, by Murakami, which I analysed earlier in this blog) , a character his readers can easily feel identified with:

The funny part is, I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I'm crazy. I didn't even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love with her and wanted to marry her. I swear to God I'm crazy. I admit it.

The more we read the more we like Holden. It's so easy for us to notice how confused he is. We feel sympathy for him. He is honest and doesn't hesitate in telling us everything that crosses his mind:

In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. I swear to God I'm a madman

This book has created a lot of controversy, and I think most of it is unjustified. For sure the book is full bad words, but I know very few teenagers who don't use them, especially when they have just been expelled from school and are going through a very difficult moment. With this entry I just wanted to prove how there is nothing evil, not even out of ordinary in this wonderful book. The fact that some murderers have been attracted to it doesn't mean that this book has made them so. It is just a book where someone who is confused and lost and angry can find someone who, although fictional, can understand him probably much better than anyone alive.

And to finish this entry, two more citations from the booked that I liked:

I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people's cars. I didn't care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn't know me and I didn’t know anybody. I thought what I'd do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf/mutes. That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddam stupid useless conversation with anybody.
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one