Friday, September 9, 2016

Salinger: re-reading your teen fave or can you go back in time?

I first read Catcher In The Rye was I was 14 or 15, I cannot remember exactly, but I do remember I loved it and read it over and over again. And then never read it again until recently!
I decided after a conversation with a friend to schedule for the bookclub I am in. See if it still sung to me after all these years, ahem, 30 years in fact.
So why did I love it back then, a small novel about an obnoxious teen written in the early 50s. Well firstly, Holden at times comes across obnoxious but he is anything but. I loved his character and felt he was kindred to me even though I didn’t really know what a kindred soul was back then. I could see he was smart, but thought differently to others, had trouble communicating with his peers and didn’t really fit in although he tried his hardest to do so. This was me back then. No matter how well I did in school, there was no pleasing my parents. I felt like the world calibrated differently and no one really got me. I was miserable but tried to keep up appearances, so as not to upset anyone and mostly to try and fit in. Which I know I did a crappy job of. And despite these appearances he was quite a straight kinda guy underneath. It was like parts of Holden were me. How bizarre!?!
Who was this JD Salinger and how did he know people like he did!?
Of course all these years later discussing this very book in a bookclub full of wonderful friends, I find out they all felt quite similarly. If only I could go back in time and tell 15 year old me not to fear I would find kindred spirits that would get me some day. And here we were, drawn from all over town,  but friends nonetheless and similar creatures.
The other thing I loved about Catcher In The Rye was his meandering around New York City. I loved the idea of him on a train, walking the streets observing people and lamenting his life going back over stuff. How was I to know at the time I would go to NYC and walk the streets and take things in, and love long train journeys anywhere. It all seemed so romanticised and wonderful, exploring a large city by yourself. It is my most favourite thing to do now.
And yes, re-reading a favourite like Catcher In The Rye is an absolute must, You fall in love with the book, Holden and everything about it all over again but in a different, deeper way and it was magnificent.
And timeless.
And this is the beauty of Salinger, he just knew how to turn a phrase, describe a moment, or flesh out a character. He was sparse, succinct, and just knew people!
So I decided to re-read everything by the great man, an author I have loved and called a fave for many decades.
I had read the rest of his catalogue in my early 20s, all short stories, and loved the eccentricity of The Glass Family and they won out over Holden. For years I hailed them my favourite Salinger.
Until the re-read.
I still loved all the short stories on the re-read, and there was a lovely booklet of three new ones released since his death. But I realised it was indeed Catcher In The Rye I loved the best. It took me back to a time when I was someone altogether different and yet I still related to it, even more so, now. It’s sharp turn of phrase, which I thought would seem dated, seemed ever as sharp.
How did Salinger do it?
I guess we’ll never know. He was refined, he only published the gold, and every single word in print by him in this world is gold. That’s remarkable. Timeless gold.
They say you can never go back again, and I guess they – whoever they are – are correct, but for a brief little moment I did and that was pretty special.

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