In which he finally reads The Catcher in the Rye

A special kind of fall.

The Catcher in the Rye. I finally read it. A couple of months ago my wife was reminded that I hadn’t read it yet and she reminded me that it was one of her favorite books and continuing to procrastinate about it was inexcusable. I’m just a couple of months shy of fifty-one and actually pretty upset with myself for not reading it four decades ago, when it probably would have really, really helped me. But the reason I never got around to reading it is exactly why it would have been so meaningful to me then. And I’m certainly (and fabulously) self-aware enough after half a century to appreciate that I’m not unique in this and that’s why (a) the book has remained and has been considered an American classic since it was published shortly after WWII and (b) so, so, so many people who know me have implored me to read it and/or been flabbergasted that I’d not yet read it.

Thinking I’m Holden Caulfield doesn’t make me special.

Yes, I was Holden Caulfield when I was in high school. (And I promise I get it: Thinking that I was Holden Caulfield doesn’t make me special.) But I was also Holden Caulfield all through college. And throughout my 20s. And 30s. And 40s. And, goddammit, all day today. I get it. Every English professor — and I majored in English literature so I had quite a few of them — who, after reading my first assignment in their class or wrapping up their first argument with me about why Blake put that comma where he did or sending me a copy of the novel years after graduation got it, too. And of course my mom got it. They all got why I needed to read it and they got why the reason I never did was precisely why I needed to read it and man were they right.

Instead of reading it when it would have done me some good, when I was fifteen and smoking cigarettes like a chimney and drowning myself in Jack Daniels and Budweiser and generally acting exactly like Holden for decades, I waited until I was deep into my fiftieth year and (somewhat depressingly) forced to use a pair of $15.00 cheaters from Target because my eyes are shot from reading eighty-two thousand other books and magazines and millions of lines of code and tweets and websites on laptops and iPhones. I waited until I had my own son who I fear desperately needs to read it for simultaneously exactly the same and completely different reasons than I did. Jesus, I’m sorry, mom. As usual I should have listened to you and I didn’t (but – again – the reason I didn’t was because of why I should have; which is enough to make your brain hurt if you think about it too much).

The Catcher in the RyeI ache for Holden Caulfield and for David Gagne at 12 and 13 and especially David Gagne at 17 and 27 and 40. And maybe I couldn’t have read it when I was all of those Davids and I needed to be this David and the fact that at 50 10/12ths I’m finally, mercifully, finally able to have some compassion for all those younger Davids is beautiful in some way.

What’s funny is that I hated reading this book. I did not enjoy it at all. I was frustrated and annoyed and bitter and angry all the way until the last twenty or thirty pages, when everything that has happened to me in the last five decades and (more importantly?) everything that happened to me in my very first decade came crashing down on my soul and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Yeah, you were right. I should have read The Catcher in the Rye a long time ago. And it sucks and is unfair that almost all the people who gave me a copy or begged me to read it are now gone and I can’t tell them how much it means to me that they saw me, saw my pain, saw my Caulfieldian struggles.

But I read it. And it is great.

  • The copy I read was the one that belonged to my mom.
  • I read the first fifth or so in late March, the second fifth the first week of April, and the rest of it on Saturday, April 27th.
  • I’ve carried this particular copy around with me (unread) since at least 1985 and it’s been to London, Maui, Italy (twice!), and The Bahamas.
  • See also: In which I resolve to read The Catcher in the Rye

There is one comment on this post

  1. i too regret not making you read it

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What Is This? is the personal weblog of me, David Vincent Gagne. I've been publishing here since 1999, which makes this one of the oldest continuously-updated websites on the Internet.

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You can read dozens of essays and articles and find hundreds of links to other sites with stories and information about Ernest Hemingway in The Hemingway Collection.