The Catcher in the Rye, a novel narrated by main character and hero Holden Caulfield, is the story of Holden's life in the few days after being expelled from his Pennsylvania prep school. Published in 1951 by J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye has been banned more times than you want to count by zealous parents and educators. Not that anybody's surprised by this (because of the profanity, sex, alcohol abuse, prostitution – need we go on?), but interestingly, it's also frequently used as part of high school English classes. With more than 60 million copies sold to date, it's one of the world's top sellers (accordingly, it's been translated into many languages, including Russian, Spanish, German, and Japanese). The Catcher in the Rye is close to J.D. Salinger's heart; he has never allowed it to be produced as a film.
A lot of mystery and controversy surrounds J.D. Salinger. It seems he stopped publishing his work just when he was peaking as an author, and since then has been essentially a social recluse, granting no interviews and making no public appearances whatsoever. Some people think he's sort of a Holden Caulfield himself. The Catcher in the Rye ended up as an emblem of counterculture in the 1950s and 60s – a symbol of alienation and isolation for the disillusioned and restless post-war generation. Salinger's own isolation from society only amplifies the mystery and allure of this important book.
Moralizing adults who hate The Catcher in the Rye write Holden off as a foul-mouthed misanthrope; he flunks out of school, picks up a hooker, borrows money from his kid sister to spend on booze, and ends up in a mental hospital. With such a perverse plot, they insist, it’s no wonder Mark David Chapman blamed his obsession with the book for making him shoot and kill John Lennon.
However, teens who hate Catcher usually tell a different story: Holden is a boring, whiny hypocrite who despises his life but makes zero effort to change it. He’s in love with a girl; nothing happens. He goes to the Big Apple; nothing happens. He hires a prostitute; nothing happens. All that scandal the censors were promising? It never happens.
Both sides of the argument hold water, but if you want to know the truth of it, the teenage perspective probably hits a lot closer to home. Catcher is never really about the plot: it’s about Holden attempting to talk you through his inner demons.
Holden obsesses over the loss of innocence, hero-worships his kid siblings, struggles to connect with anyone his own age, and thinks all adults are self-important phonies. For a guy who wishes he could pull a Peter Pan on his biological clock, having no forward momentum in the narrative is kind of the point. Which means that if you’re not interested in Holden or his struggle, the book won’t exactly have a lot of entertainment value for you.
You’d think that the Facebook / Myspace / Twitter / reality TV generation would be more receptive to the ramblings of a confused 17-year-old, but many of today’s readers seem less impressed with The Catcher in the Rye than ever. So tell us, Shmooparinos, is Holden getting harder to relate to? Have our attention spans been ruined by incessant texting and a 140-character limit? Are we so caught up in telling our own stories nowadays that we’ve forgotten how to listen to anyone else’s?