Every year I like to pick up one or two "classic" novels -- books that are commonly praised and studied but which I haven't yet had the pleasure of enjoying. Sure, there are tons of great new books coming out each year, but there are still countless backlist and classic titles that I haven't yet experienced. I know I'll never catch up and read them all, but it's fun to make an attempt to go back and check them out.
One of my best experiences with this was almost ten years ago when I picked up Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. This is a book I studied back in Grade 9 but which I didn't finish reading -- nor did I particularly care for it at that age (when I was, perhaps 13 or 14)
But when I read it in my late twenties I was blown away with just how well-written it was, just how great a book it was. I kept saying: "No wonder they MAKE us read this novel. It's a truly great read." Then, of course, I thought back and considered how I wasn't able to appreciate it at an earlier age. Was it because I wasn't yet ready for it and couldn't enjoy a really well written novel with a compelling tale, intriguing characters and interesting underlying themes of morality, spirituality and synchronicity, or simply because it was forced on me?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is another one of those classic books that is often studied in English classes; but it is one that I never studied or read.
So I picked it up recently to give it a go.
I was sadly disappointed. Both with the book as well as with how deflated my expectations were.
My reaction to this novel was: "Really? This is a classic?"
The main character, Holden Caulfield, was not only not sympathetic, but he was pretty much a jerk. The voice the story is told in is an annoying snotty-faced punk's POV. Okay, I'll give Salinger credit for that, because he properly captured the essence of the self-directed and desperate search for identify and belonging POV of the teenage years, if that is what he was shooting for.
But if this novel hadn't been a highly praised classic, I likely would have put it down after half a dozen pages. The story is basically a couple of days in the life of an annoying jerk of a young man that doesn't really go anywhere or do anything but do a heck of a lot of navel gazing. There's too much repetition in the voice of the narrator, more so than to simply sprinkle the book with the angst and frustration of the main character, nor to get across his youth -- for this reader, it simply got in the way of my attempt to enjoy it.
Yes, I know, this novel is praised for it's accurate portrayal of angst, rebellion and confusion, and I'll admit that it has that, but, my God, for a short novel (just over 200 pages) it seemed to drag on way too long. It strikes me that the same result could have be derived through a short story without having to make the reader suffer through 200 pages. Or perhaps this reader has become conditioned to actually have to enjoy the story or at least sympathize with the main character to get through a novel-length work. (Short stories require less of an investment of time, so perhaps I'm more likely to hang-in there if the main character isn't so likeable)
Or maybe I'm so out of touch with my teenage self that I can no longer appreciate the point of view Salinger wrote the novel in. I am a middle-aged man, after all. But, in many ways, I still often feel like the awkward and geeky 17 year old (just many years older, with a lot more responsibility on my shoulders and a lot less hair on my head), so perhaps I'm not all THAT out of touch. After all, when I've read other novels and stories featuring teenage protagonists, I'm able to sympathize with their POV quite easily.
In any case, I'm glad that I read this novel, even though the experience wasn't all that enjoyable. What does THAT say about this book loving nerd?