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The Catcher in the Rye

Updated on February 7, 2014

A Book Review, by Earl S. Wynn

Published in 1959, this novel, which is considered by many to be a classic and important piece of American literature, has got to be one of the most hated novels from that list of books you're forced to read in highschool. It's like "Lord of the Flies"-- you read it because you have to, because the school says you have to, and there's going to be a test on it, but otherwise, as a kid, you could care less about it. It's famous, everybody knows it, and some board of dried-up arcane magi that lord over the fate of the literary world have decreed year after year that you must read it, or else your education just wouldn't be complete.

Luckily (unluckily?) I bounced around enough in high school and the end of gradeschool that I managed to dodge all the infamous literary bullets --Scarlet Letter, Red Badge of Courage, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye-- all except "Of Mice and Men" and "Grapes of Wrath", but those weren't so bad. I spent my time reading Asimov and Douglas Adams instead, and when the titles of the books off that "forced-to-read" list crossed my path, I just smiled and thanked the maker I'd been spared whatever horror they contained that so many others had been forced to suffer through.

So how did I end up reading it eventually? How did this horror of the literary world catch up to me? Simple, like a brave hunter of monsters, I went looking for it.

Anyone who is familiar with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex will be familiar with at least the title of the book-- it's insinuated into the plotlines of the series, and gets quoted enough times to inspire your curiosity. Heck, even the logo of "The Laughing Man" contains a quote from the book which spins around a stylized laughing face, a tantalizing clue that leads one way to the center of the mystery of "The Laughing Man" and the other way to a dusty piece of American Literature.

But is J.D. Salinger's novel really so bad or dusty or terrible as it's made out to be? I admit it was hard to get through-- it's gritty, it's old, the concepts are archaic and hard to grasp if you're too smart or too inexperienced to grasp it's messages, but I think it really is an important piece of literature, a key piece of stone in the wall of the mature human mind. Why? One reason: It breaks up our preconceptions, throws a light on fakery and facade, and forces us to look at a flawed world with a selfish and impartial eye.

Written from a first person perspective, an "I" that tells the story to the reader, it grips us alot easier and effects the reader alot more fully than if it were written from a more passive, more distant point of view. In fact, if it had been told in anything but the first person, we'd likely never have found ourselves identifying with such a selfish and dirty and altogether unlikeable character as Holden Caulfield, and the book would have been an absolute flop. But told how it is, Salinger manages to reach inside our minds and infect us with a sense of worth, a sense of control over ourselves and our own lives. He teaches the young reader independence, and reminds the old reader what it means to be an adult. For this powerful and direct purpose, I give "The Catcher in the Rye" a firm three stars, for though the message is a full five star message, this book can be a difficult and rough road to travel.

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