Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I don't believe writers when they say they aren't derivative: every writer had basic influences early on that left impressions on their writing style. I read a real lot when I was younger, and I tended to read European authors like Jane Austen and anything by the Brontes. I also read Frankenstein over and over. I didn't understand everything that I read, but since I wasn't required to read those books, they left a more lasting impression on me than say, Johnny Tremain which was required and achingly dull.

Literature seemed pretty tidy in those books. Emotions were veiled and even Frankenstein didn't scare me. Somewhere in my 'tween mind, I got he was a symbol.

Then I read Catcher in the Rye. It was as if I had been slouching around reading and this book made me sit up. He talked about places I recognized, like the duck pond in Central Park. He talked about having panic attacks. He talked about telling lies. He openly talked about not being happy.

I remember telling my English teacher I was reading Salinger. She snorted, "That book is like one long complaint."

Still, I read it over and over. I think I was about 12 or 13 when I read it. I read it again at about 16 and understood a lot more. I even looked up what a field of rye might look like back when you had to use an Encyclopedia Britannica. It pretty much looks like this:

All kinds of things are being said about Salinger now. I don't think he began YA as a genre as a lot of bloggers and interviewees are saying. I'm not sure if he spoke for a generation as that generation is now approaching 100. Maybe he did at the time.

What he did do was write a really, really good book that spoke to teenagers in a way that made them feel connected to someone else through literature.

Pretty much, that's the whole point.


Jemi Fraser said...

What an awesome review. I wish Salinger could read this. As writers we all hope to have this kind of impact on someone.

K.C. Shaw said...

I'm kind of embarrassed that I haven't read Catcher in the Rye. I think I would have really appreciated it as a high-schooler. I don't know if I'd appreciate it as much now, but I might just pick up a copy and see.

Anne Spollen said...

Heh, maybe Salinger IS reading this, Jemi. If you think paranormally. (Is that a word?)

You might still like "Catcher," K.C. He really captures that adolescent sense of feeling outside of just about everything bettern than anyone else I've ever read.

Hardygirl said...

I loved Catcher in the Rye, too. It was the first time I truly understood the word "voice".

And, I had to read the stupid Johnny Tremain book in school, too. Bleah.


Bish Denham said...

Excellent post. I know I read Catcher in high school, but I don't remember a thing about the book.

Marcia said...

I've never read CATCHER either. Once I looked for it in my library and they didn't have it, which blew me away, and then of course I just went on to other books. But I have to add a plug for Johnny Tremain. We had to read that too, and it was assigned by a teacher whose book choices I always hated. But I loved it. Learned later it had won the Newbery, and I thought, "Yeah, I can definitely see that."

Anne Spollen said...

Yup, that's it, sf! It's voice - it was the first novel I ever read that had less plot and more voice. It seemed so amazing at the time.

There had to have been another book that was like "Catcher" to you, Bish -- maybe just not your cup of tea.

Hey Marcia - you're back! Nice to see you! I had to teach Johnny Tremain for four years to bored, unhappy seventh graders. That could color one's opinion...not having liked it so much in the first place.

But I can definitely see why someone would like it. Then there's that Newberry...

Mary Witzl said...

I liked Johnny Tremain too -- it was required and I was all set to hate it, but it clicked with me for some reason. Though not quite like Catcher did.

I read Catcher in the Rye when I was 17 and was bowled over by it. I loved everything about the book: the whole adventure of his life, the way Holden described the phonies around him (I was sick of phonies myself and always on the alert for them), the aching sadness as he remembered his younger brother, dead of leukemia. I read it over and over, then checked out everything else Salinger wrote and read that multiple times too.

Rereading Catcher as an adult, I found it had lost some of its lustre. But his short stories have stayed with me still, in particular De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period, which I remember as a real classic, funny, self-deprecatory and poignant. And I'll be looking out for his posthumous stuff, if it ever sees the light of day.

Cleverly Inked said...

Very well put