Saturday, September 30, 2006

Catcher in the Rye Review

I mentioned here in my intro post about banned books week, about wishing that I had been sheltered from some reading that I did as a teen, and many of the comments on that post explained why people take up the role of book banner in their own homes. If you didn't get to read the comments, go back and check out what my wise readers had to say (when blogger let them). As an exploration of this week, I committed to reading the Catcher in the Rye, since it's still one of the most challenged books and also considered a classic.

I would not recommend the Catcher in the Rye. The language is awful, and to be honest, I think it's just sort of a rambling, jumbled memoir of a few days in the life of an adolescent boy. It was pretty boring. However, by the end, I was a little charmed by Holden Caulfield, and I think therein lies the beauty of the book. One can be reminded that no matter how self-confident or arrogant a boy seems, no matter how much he is striving for maturity, that inside there is a lot of love and consideration for others and a desire to just hang out with his little sister. Some of his charm was expressed through his love of books, which I found amusing and accurate:
What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while. . . What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though. I wouldn't mind calling this Isak Dinesen up. And Ring Lardner, except that D.B. told me he's dead (p. 25).
This book is on the top 10 all-time challenged book for sexual content, offensive language, and being unsuited to age group. I have to say that when I looked it up online at my library to see if it was available, they had copies in both the young adult section (which is on a different floor from the children's section) and the adult section. As far as being unsuited to the age group, although I would not want it assigned to a child in a high school class, the content, other than the prolific use of profanity, is mild compared to what most teens experience in the media that surrounds them on a daily basis. I found the sexual content to be much less than most teens have seen on a sitcom or a PG-13 movie, but it was published in 1945, so it was probably quite revolutionary at the time.

I obviously don't agree with the ALA on their complete intellectual freedom stance, which actually calls age/grade level changes censorship. As I said in this post, as a society, we protect children from certain things, by rating video games, music, movies and even having a parental rating system for television shows. I don't think that books should be judged any differently.

Edited to add the link left in the comments by Mental Multivitamin, a teacher who has taught the book in high school and college, on the defense of why Catcher in the Rye is a good book to teach to high schoolers. It's an opposing viewpoint, but I found it interesting and even agreed with it for the most part. Check it out.

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My Fall Reading Challenge: one down, 6 in progress (that sounds crazy).

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

My post "Defending Holden" may interest you:

http://mentalmultivitamin.blogspot.com/2006/01/defending-holden.html

'found you via Semicolon's "The Saturday Review of Books."

MFS
http://mentalmultivitamin.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. What is it with me and repeats? Please delete the second comment.

Katrina said...

Thanks for this review, Jennifer. I've never read Catcher in Rye and I only had a vague notion of what it was about.

Oh - and you're no crazier than I am. I have 4 of my reading challenge books in process, and several that aren't on my list have been cracked open as well. I keep telling myself to PUT THEM DOWN until I'm done with my other ones!

Heather said...

I read Catcher in the Rye in high school. It was not assigned to me but to a friend who said it was boring. I had just finished reading LOTR for the fourth time and was looking for something different so I took it on. I hated it. It was a waste of time, especially when I was also reading Aldus Huxley, Tolkien, Lewis, MacDonald, and Austin. I thought the kid was an idiot and that the writing was an atrocity. I felt the same way about Slaughter House Five and the other supposedly great (in high school that means controversial) books that my high school teachers had the nerve to teach us. Out of all the books we "had" to read the only one I loved was the Scarlet Letter (and I got in trouble for reading it the first week instead of in the bite sized bits we were supposed to be doing.:() At that time I had already been exposed to most of the "great" books so these were a shock to the system. I look at them as compared to the great classics much as I look at Andy Warhol compared to the masters. Many of these I think would not be taught, except that they are controversial and that teachers determine to teach them because they think that high schoolers will identify with them. Teens long for beauty and quality writing as much as children and adults. If you teach them the beautiful, true, and right books they will attempt to live up to those standards instead of the misery that comes with Stephen Crane and other miserable, controversal writers.

Sorry. A bit of a rant there. Good thing I decided to stop teaching in schools and homeschool. My theory is working so far. :) Think on whatever is true and right...

Jane said...

Thanks for this honest review, that's what I love about this challenge, you get such a variety of opinions on different books. Catcher in the Rye is a book that has been on my shelf for years, under the "books I should read" category....enjoy the rest of your books.

e-Mom said...

Wow, it's been years since I read this (in high school). Thanks for the review, and I think I'll leave it at that! *-)

Benjie said...

I've added this one to my Saturday Review challenge list. I must admit that I've never read it, but I've a friend who says it's great reading that no one should miss.

Anonymous said...

this book is incredible. the language really captures his age, and makes his character hilarous, going out of his way to be innappropriate. he is a BOY so seeing inside the mind of a boy makes some people uncomfortable. i am a girl, and i really love this book.

ewrosla said...

If we ban all boring, hard-language and drug-reference-containing books, we`ll finish with reading "Winnie the Pooh" in high school. I see nothing wrong about this book. Of course i wouldn`t read it to little childs, because its unsuitable for them. This book has a message, and language of this book is appropirate to it`s content - i can`t imagine such book written in "good-mannered" way.

Anonymous said...

Some may agree that this book is too graphic or that it's too boring but personally, I thought it was brilliant. The intellectual depth Holden goes into is enlightening and it made me think a lot. The message it sends is deep and because of the content written in it, the way it's delivered is perfect. I can't imagine it coming across in the same way with a censored tone.