Photo: ed yourton via flickr
I just finished reading “The Catcher In The Rye.”This is notable in part because I rarely read books anymore. (No time–too much iPhone.)
It’s also notable because this is the third time I’ve read it.
The first time I read “The Catcher In The Rye” was in high school, when everyone reads it. I loved it then, because it was one of the few books I read that was written in language that I could relate to. (Unlike Shakespeare, which I only pretended to understand).
Specifically, the main character in “The Catcher In The Rye,” Holden Caulfield, spoke like a high school student like me–using words like “phony” and “that killed me” and “all that crap.” And I could relate to all the stuff Holden talked about: Girls, baseball mitts, high school, family.
But I somehow came away from the book thinking that the reason it was called “The Catcher In The Rye” was that Holden Caulfield played baseball, as a catcher, and that, during the period described in the book, he was feeling a bit lost (“in the rye.”)
Then, five years or so ago, I read the book again, when a copy of it appeared in my house.
And that was when I learned, to my surprise, that Holden Caulfield was not a baseball player, much less a catcher, and therefore, that the book’s title had nothing to do with that. (Holden’s little brother Allie, who had recently died, had a catcher’s mitt. But other than that, there was no baseball in the book.)
Rather, the “catcher in the rye” reference referred to a fantasy Holden shares with his little sister Phoebe about about the only thing Holden might want to do as an adult–the only thing meaningful enough that he wouldn’t feel like a phony doing it. And that would be standing in a huge rye field in which a bunch of little kids were playing, a field that ended at the edge of a cliff. The little kids would be dashing all around the field, and they wouldn’t be looking where they were going–and occasionally they would go charging toward the edge of the cliff. And Holden would be there, catching them, before they went off the cliff–the “catcher in the rye.”
And that discovery was startling. Because all this time I’d thought of Holden as a catcher behind the plate.
Well, anyway, that was five years ago.
Then the book appeared near my bed again sometime last year, so I started reading it for the third time. Then it disappeared for a year. Then, a week ago, it turned up again. So I finished reading it.
And I figured out something else that I had missed the previous two times I had read it. I figured out what the book is actually about.
“The Catcher In The Rye” is the story of a kid who has a nervous breakdown in the year after his little brother Allie dies. Everyone is trying to help him, but almost no one can. No one except his little sister Phoebe, who catches him before he goes charging off the cliff.
(I realise this has no doubt long been obvious to all of you, but it was news to me.)
Anyway, it’s a great book.
It’s also a short book, which is an underrated attribute, especially these days.
If you can put your iPhone down long enough to read it, I highly recommend it.
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