I figured it’s about time I read more modern classics. And what better way to do so that lounging about in a campsite on a holiday?

The Catcher in the Rye has always interested me, but conspiracy theories about the CIA tracking and tracing me was usually in the back of my mind. After reading it I can see why it’s “one of those books”.

The novel is a narration by a boy called Holden Caulfield, and he’s what we’d these days call a ‘troubled teen’. Problem is, the book is set in the late 1940s when teens weren’t actually identified as a demographic. For one thing, Holden spends just about the entire book boozing and smoking like a chimney. But that’s not what’s interesting. What’s interesting is that Holden is probably the biggest cynic you’ll ever meet.

It’s the cynicism of this 16-year-old that’s the subversive element of Catcher. Holden thinks just about everyone is “a phoney” and spends the entire narration outlining why he doesn’t trust, like or respect almost everyone. It’s fascinating, especially considering the growing and rigid social conformity that followed the Second World War. Just as the USA is falling into a deeply social conservative trough Salinger writes this story about how conformity is fake.

Naturally, anyone who reads and agrees with the book needs to be monitored.

From the benefit of 60 years of social development it’s easy to see how Holden is just a teen who needs to be helped in accepting his place in the world, but when it was written he must have appeared as seriously socially deficient. For one thing, he appears to have everything going for him; looks, money, good family. But he is too disturbed by a series of tragedies (the sort that early C20th men were expected to “just get over”), and a natural inclination to questioning authority and conformity.

So can you identify with Holden? Let’s face facts, if you were a teen who didn’t feel dislocated and/or confused? If you thought you understood how it all worked? Then you were probably a wanker. If you didn’t, then you were just like Holden.

Overall thought, what I took most from this novel was an scene where Holden has sought refuge with a former teacher. The teacher offers him this advice:

Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it for any considerable distance, it’ll begin to give you an idea of what size mind you have. What’ll fit it, and maybe, what it won’t. After a while you’ll have an idea of what size thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing… You’ll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly.

Take out the formal education part of that and you’ve got advice I wish to hell I had at age 16.

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