Monday, February 01, 2010

Caught in the Rye

Addendum: Thanks to Tamara for providing this link to the Onion's pitch perfect coverage of Salinger's passing.

J.D. Salinger passed away last week.  Of course, it put me in mind of his best known work.  Here is a reprint of a blog I wrote a few years back.

For this month’s book club, we read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger.  It was swell.  It killed me, really.

Salinger shows an understanding of human nature in the simplest of things.  Like when the protagonist, Holden, is waiting for a girl that’s late.  He’s upset until he sees her – and how pretty she is.

Holden points out that all those cartoons of guys who are angry because their dates are late is all bunk, because, “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late?  Nobody.”

Yeah, the bane of all us guys with pretty wives/girlfriends – too hard to stay mad.  We’re just not programmed to combat good looks.

Holden has a few other ideas that struck me, mostly as they reverberate throughout my own take on life, religion and politics.

First, in talking about a comment made about himself near the beginning of the novel:  “It’s partly true, too, but it isn’t all true.  People always think something’s all true.”

Second, closer to the end of the book, he is railing against a debate teacher that kept telling him to unify and simplify his speeches.

“Some things you can’t do that to.  I mean you can’t hardly ever simplify and unify something just because somebody wants you to.”

I find it interesting that Salinger makes the case up front, and towards the end, that some things in life aren’t so simple as to be able to be reduced to a bumper sticker; even people aren’t so simple as to be reduced to a label (or at least one that is all true).

Salinger’s novel itself has often been attacked – typically by those that have simplified the novel, and tried to make it “all” one thing.

Of course, you can’t win elections without oversimplifying things like the issues. (“If you question our methods, you’re anti-American!”)

And it’s easier to win an argument if you can claim something is all true.  (“If A is at all true, then B must be completely false!”)

And it’s a pain to try and keep congregants happy if you make outrageous claims like “G-d is multifaceted and complex.”

Okay, I admit it – rather than figure all this complex stuff out, I’d like to forget about it and just spend my time contemplating how swell my girl looks.

Just my thoughts,


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