RIP Catcher

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As the author of several phenomenally unsuccessful novels which sell almost 20 copies a month on Amazon, I feel qualified to write on the following subject if for no other reason than that I have a computer with an operating keyboard (unless you count the F5 key, but what’s that for, anyway?):

J.D. Salinger has passed away in the last week at the age of 92. For those of you who don’t remember, Salinger was the author of a book that has sold more copies than most of my books have words in them: “The Catcher in the Rye”. Because of this novel, and a few short stories only English majors from the 1960s remember, Salinger is regarded by many as the greatest American novelist of the 20th century.

I am not one of those people.

I didn’t have to read “Catcher” for school. [My suspicion: at least 80% of the sales of this book were because students were required to purchase it for some lit class in high school or college.] I read it because I had read the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella (the novel the excellent movie “Field of Dreams” was based on) and one of the main characters in the novel is Salinger and several reverences are made to “Catcher”. So I was actually one of those rare people who went out and read the book entirely of my own volition; purchasing it at a used bookstore in Abilene, TX, along with a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” which I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Now, for all its praise as a “classic”, it’s really hard to find someone who has actually read “The Catcher in the Rye” all the way through (and most of them are now high school English teachers). Most people picked it up (because they had to) and read just enough to write a (bad) book report, before abandoning it. If you are one of those people, let me clue you in on what you didn’t read: it didn’t get any better.

“Catcher” is the rambling account of an amoral, self-obsessed teen-ager who thinks the world should be a whole lot nicer to him but isn’t willing to be any nicer to it. The main character, Holden Caulfield, throws around swear words like a junior high boy who has just discovered them … which is pretty much who he is. While chronologically old enough to be out of junior high, Holden has the mind of—at best—a sixth grader. The novel is a paean to stunted growth, which I guess is what makes it so popular. Holden is held up as a hero by many people because he doesn’t conform to society. But really, if you’ve read the book, he’s not a rebel like George Washington Carver (who rebelled against a prejudiced system and changed the scientific world) or Ghandi (whose passive resistance re-wrote a continent) or even Bill Walsh (whose “west coast offense” changed the way modern football is played). Holden’s just a petulant little man-child whose brain is in his pants—making him not so much a rebel as a poster-boy for our modern entertainment scene.

Salinger lived out the years of his life after “Catcher” as a recluse. This mystery has long added to his reputation for cool. Is it just barely possible that, maybe, deep down in his heart of hearts, he was really sitting back and laughing at all the people who had based their life on his piece of printed dreck? I like to think so.