“The only thing that would be different would be you”

This week, I read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I’ll explain my title for this blog after I get the obligatory part of this post over. (Which by saying obligatory makes it sound as if I don’t like it, but I actually find it fascinating which authors pick which books).

The authors that listed Catcher in the Rye in their top ten are Bebe Moore Campbell, Carl Hiassen, Alice Hoffman and Arthur Golden.

The quote above comes from a section of the novel where Holden Caulfield (the main character, a disenchanted 16 year old in the middle of a breakdown psychotic episode) is ruminating about the Natural History Museum in NYC.

“Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a horrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way–I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”

I picked this quote to title the blog and start the blog post with because I think with certain books it holds true. When I texted Dave to see if he was okay with me blogging Catcher in the Rye and said I had assumed he had read it, he said “many times”. Now, unlike me, I actually know of very few books Dave has reread (maybe there’s a lot and he just doesn’t talk about them 😛 ). And then I realized, I had read it once while still in school and then had actually reread it when I was student teaching because I -taught- it. This led me to think on different times I’ve heard people talking about Catcher in the Rye. And the thing I realized, is that it’s a book that is often reread. Which can also be said about To Kill a Mockingbird.

Those of us that reread books know the truth of the quote above. When you reread a book, nothing in it has changed. Every word is the exact same as the last time. Every word is in the exact same place. Every paragraph begins and ends in the same exact way. What’s different is you. You’ve changed. So, maybe this time reading Catcher in the Rye, you notice the relationship between Holden and his little sister Phoebe more (it’s actually while looking for Phoebe that Holden ends up outside of the museum and begins the above train of thought), but the last time you read it, you focused on Holden’s meeting with a prostitute and the subsequent beating by a busboy named Maurice. Maybe you feel achingly sad this time for Holden as you notice him grasping for straw after straw while beginning to spiral, but last time you were just frustrated with him and wanted to yell at him to grow up already, for fuck’s sake.

This is also true with books you maybe begin to read and just can’t get into. It took me four tries over the course of a decade to finish Anna Karenina, and I ended up loving it. But I wasn’t able to complete it until the 4th try. For a more modern example of this, the first time I read Lisey’s Story by Stephen King (quite different than his normal novels) I couldn’t finish it, which is bizarre for me and a Stephen King book. Two years later, I picked it up and read it, then listened to it and about five years after that, reread it. I loved it every time.

So, this blog post has actually turned more into a rumination about reading and less of a post about Catcher in the Rye. I recommend reading it. Even if you read it in high school, reread it. Remember two things when you do however. 1. Holden is a teenager, as such, he thinks like a teenager and talks like a teenager. 2. Remember, he is having a breakdown of some sort, so not only thinks and talks like a teen, but thinks and talks like a person in the midst of an episode.

I do like what he has to say about life, at least on my darker days I do.

“That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose”.

Now go reread a book. Any book.

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