The Book Meme Challenge: Most overrated book
As Mel and I commented the other day, any given young adult book is prime fodder for this category. It’s easy for younger readers – and I have been one of them – to read a book and abuse both adjectives and capslock. “WOW! That was AWESOME! BEST BOOK EVERRR!”
But such readers, God willing, grow older, and even if their opinions do not mature, one hopes that at least their commentary does. What’s far worse is the book that is critically acclaimed when it isn’t edifying.
So. I pondered books I’ve read that I didn’t find edifying, and came up with J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I read it my freshman year of high school, thinking I’d do a report on it, but changed my mind after reading it, as it is essentially plotless – not because it lacks problems, the way my third-grade compositions did, but because it lacks any sort of resolution. Holden Caulfield tells you all about how he left school, and went back to New York, and called some people and said some things…and then suddenly stops. Boom. There is plenty of narrative – even situations that could bring about some sort of personal development – but nothing changes.
While ruminating on this, I wondered if I were being unfair, and found the text online to reread it, just in case I’d missed something.
Conclusion? Yes and no.
Yes, Salinger does sneak some accurate observations in there, of certain kinds of people and awkward situations. Here are a few lines I shook out of the chaff:
He’s so good he’s almost corny, in fact. I don’t know exactly what I mean by that, but I mean it.
The thing is, it’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs – if yours are really good ones and theirs aren’t.
I said I’d enjoyed talking to them a lot, too. I meant it, too. I’d have enjoyed it even more though, I think, if I hadn’t been sort of afraid, the whole time I was talking to them, that they’d all of a sudden try to find out if I was a Catholic. Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic. [HA! So true]
But what I mean is, lots of time you don’t know what interests you most till you start talking about something that doesn’t interest you most. I mean you can’t help it sometimes.
Likewise, Holden’s interest in Jean Gallagher and how he describes his siblings shows that he can love his crooked neighbor with his crooked heart. The wandering stream-of-consciousness style is indeed reminiscent of the adolescent mind. So is the slang (though it is now rather dated), the profanity (though I wish teenagers didn’t find that necessary to express themselves), the mood swings (particularly when he gets depressed or suicidal), the need to be in the mood for various actions (I wanted to yell “Mood is for cattle or making love or playing the baliset; it’s not for fighting” at him), and the hyperbole. The idea of being a catcher in the rye – which signifies saving children from some disaster – is the closest Holden gets to poetry or nobility.
But my high school-freshman self was spot on in noting the lack of plot and Holden’s lack of maturation. The book has allegedly become popular “for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation, language, and rebellion…. The novel’s protagonist and antihero, Holden Caulfield, has become an icon for teenage rebellion. …It also deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, connection, and alienation.” I would agree that these themes or issues are indeed depicted, but that is all. They are not dealt with. The only way I suppose Caulfield could keep anyone in the rye from falling off the cliff is by marking out what path they shouldn’t follow.