Holden Caulfield.

I’ve made a conscientious effort, in my advancing adulthood, to catch up on all the books I should’ve read, but never did, when I was young. Books like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe – adventures to fire the imagination of a lad. In my ladhood, as my imagination was fired by the novels of Robert Heinlein, and Kurt Vonnegut, and Douglas Adams, and by thousands and thousands of Marvel Comics, I neglected the old standbys. It’s only in my late twenties that I got around to papering over some of the more egregious lapses in my ladhood literacy.

I first read Catcher in the Rye in the middle of this campaign of self-improvement, perhaps a half-decade ago – I can’t precisely recall. And when I picked it up again, on a whim, a couple nights ago, I pretty quickly discovered that I couldn’t recall much about the book, either. All I could’ve told you was that it was a story about Holden Caulfield, a prep school kid who wears a funny hat and thinks everyone is a phony. Of specific incidents – getting beat up in his hotel room by a pimp, trying to find the ducks in the lagoon in Central Park, getting hit on (maybe?) in the middle of the night by the ex-teacher whose sofa he’s crashing on – I remembered nothing.

I was trying to remember where I was in my life when I last read the book. Was I in my current apartment? Was I working or was it during one of my many long stretches of unemployment? Was I writing at the time? Was it before or after the rock opera? Was I seeing a girl at the time or, far more likely, not?

Holden Caulfield, killing time at the Museum of Natural History, is thinking similar thoughts:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.

The next time I read Catcher in the Rye – and I’m sure I will again, five or maybe ten years from now – I’ll be able to look back and find out exactly where I was in my life the last time I read Catcher in the Rye. I’m thirty-two years old, living in my bachelor apartment above the beauty salon. I recently gave up shaving and let my beard grow back. I look like this:

Catcher in the Rye

Catcher in the Rye

I’ve been working for about three months at my job creating promotional cartoons. It’s Friday. It snowed last night and the roads are kind of slushy. I went into the office for a couple hours this afternoon and talked to John about the script for the third cartoon. I spent some time animating a snail-lady, then I came home early and didn’t do any more work. I bought some bran muffins from Nutana Bakery on the way home. I popped into the drugstore downstairs to see if I could find a DVD to rent, something shiny and trivial – briefly considered George Clooney’s Leatherheads or the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, then decided I wasn’t in the mood for either. Tonight I haven’t done anything except visit a few websites and read the last ten or so chapters of Catcher in the Rye.

Next time I read the book, I’ll be different, but Holden Caulfield will still be killing time at the Museum of Natural History, still gawking at that squaw with the naked bosom.


2 Responses to “Holden Caulfield.”

  1. 1 Greg Wall November 12, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Hey Michael, saw you post on facebook and it led me to to your blog. I stumbled around and landed here. I can certainly empathize with your need to read the books that you should have read as a younger person. I am still going through that phase of ‘self-betterment’. I first read this book in my early twenties and loved it. I thought Holden was absolutely the funniest and most interesting character I had ever read.

    I point to this book as a turning point for me in my literary life. I have read this book two and a half times and the third time starts tomorrow with my rowdy bunch of grade 11 and 12 remedial English students. I hope they like it, but I am apprehensive at the same time as this book is not exactly plot driven.

    As I said, I am still in my phase of ‘self-betterment’ in which literature plays a huge part. I have gone through a great deal of the classics that I was to have read in my earlier years. I must admit, that many of them left me empty. For example, ‘Lord of the Lies’ made me joyless, ‘Of Mice and Men’ left me depressed, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Withering Heights’ gained my unrequited love. Not to forget the weirdness that is ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.

    So I moved on, perhaps a victim of living in a society where attentions spans are so small and instant payoffs are now necessary. I began to stay away from stories that seemed to be plot-less. I began to view many of the works of the early 20th century masters, that we hold in such high regard, as a little on the self-indulgent and pretentious side. Don’t get me wrong I still enjoy and have great respect for their work, but I needed more.

    I turned to humour first, and have never laughed so hard when I read, ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’. I journeyed next to the Fantasy genre, where I have stayed for the greatest amount of time. My rock stars are now Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, Greg Keyes, David Anthony Durham and more. I never, envisioned myself falling for this genre, as it seems so unlike me.

    As a reluctant reader in my early life, meeting Holden Caulfield left a big impression on me. This is the book that made me a reader. The museum will never change, but it has changed me forever.

  2. 2 orangeraisin November 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Thanks, Greg. I’m not sure if our campaigns of self-betterment are actually making us better; the main thing I’ve learned from literature is how very little I know about anything. I used to think I was a pretty smart fella. Somewhere around page 100 of Gravity’s Rainbow I realised that if this was the kind of book smart fellas read, I might as well stick to the funny pages. Still, being put in your place by literature that’s over your head is a valuable lesson – it builds character – and it turns out Gravity’s Rainbow has some good funny bits and some good dirty bits if you stick with it; so my effort wasn’t totally wasted.

    I’m not familiar with any of the fantasy authors you name, except that I’ve noticed them crowding out the Robert Heinleins that I sometimes dig for in the sci-fi bins of used bookstores. I think I’ll wait for the highbrows to ratify the literary worth of Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin before I bother to take them up. It could happen; there was a time when no one took Tolkien or Philip K. Dick seriously. Meanwhile I’ve still got a hell of a lot of highbrow stuff to get through before I’ll consider myself sufficiently “bettered”. Once I’ve read all the great books I’ll have to start on all the great poetry; maybe by the time I’m fifty I can learn to appreciate classical music; then philosophy in my sixties; then, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy a year or two as a fully cultured person before I die.

    I’m glad someone’s still out there trying to force the youngsters to read Catcher in the Rye. I hope they take to it.

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Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

Michael isn't on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter and won't be on whatever comes along next. If you need to reach him here's his contact info.

Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker