Let’s Talk Books – The Catcher in the Rye

Yup. We’re talking about it.

However, I don’t really want to go too into analyzing the book in this post. Actually, I wanted to talk about the love and hate surrounding Catcher in the Rye, and there’s certainly a lot of it.

So I read Catcher in the Rye for my sophomore English class in high school. High school was a pretty strange time for me; I’d gotten too frustrated reading books on my own because I never seemed to grasp what my teachers wanted me to take from them. It had turned me off of reading for a long time, and the only stuff I actually read a lot of was manga. I didn’t rediscover my love of reading until after high school, but that’s besides the point. All that being said, I remember Catcher in the Rye being one of the required readings I enjoyed, although I honestly don’t remember why. It wasn’t like I read this during high school and fell in love with Holden Caulfield or anything, which happens to be one of the things haters of the book hold against the fans. I’m fairly certain I forgot everything about the book shortly after finishing it.

I didn’t pick it up again until last year. I was 25 and I loved it. It had been on my to-revisit list for a long time, I finally found my copy, I read it, and I loved it. I was surprised by how much I loved it. There’s usually a decent amount of distance between me and any work of literature from this time period, but I was shocked at how well it held up for me. From a writer’s point of view, I find it really impressive that a book written so long ago has a train-of-thought narrative style that feels not exactly modern, but familiar enough for me to find extremely likeable.

For me.

Look, I’ll admit it right now, as much as I love Catcher in the Rye, I get why it’s not for everyone. I can see why people hate Holden Caulfield. I can get why they don’t like the train-of-thought narration. I’ve tried this style of narration before for some of my writing assignments in fiction workshops, and it was very, very hit or miss. Whether or not it’s done well seems to be irrelevant; I honestly think this writing style is something people either love or don’t, and I’ll bet if you asked the fans and haters of this book what they thought of the train-of-thought style the novel uses, they’ll love and hate it, respectively.

I can understand why they think it’s overrated. To be extremely blunt, nothing “happens.” This is one of the major complaints people have about the book, and I guess in the literal sense they’re right. Holden gets kicked out of school, he dicks around and complains for 200+ pages, and the book ends. In the sense of literal things happening, nothing much does happen.

The thing is, this is a book that’s more about the observations the narrator is making rather than the physical things that are happening in the plot. I can see Holden desperately trying to connect with other people on the spur of the moment and getting mad when they don’t turn out like he hoped they would. I can see Holden struggling to accept how the adult world is filled with people that constantly need to show off to others to obtain their self-worth. I can see Holden missing the innocence of childhood and trying to avoid the inevitable fact that he not only will become one of those “phony” people he hates so much, but is actually in the middle of that change.

(And as a side note, another common complaint about Catcher in the Rye is that Holden is a hypocrite and does many of the things he hates other people do. Yeah. He does. That’s the point. I honestly thought that was fairly obvious, but it’s something that seems to fly over a lot of the criticizers’ heads. Holden is a teenager. His beliefs and his actions aren’t always supposed to be the same. That’s not how teenagers tend to work. And if that’s not enough, Holden does flat out tell the readers that he’s “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.” (22) He establishes his potential as an unreliable narrator pretty early in the book. When people hate him because of these things when his character is intentionally built around these flaws, it kind of makes me feel like they’re missing the point. Sorry for the rant, I just wanted to get that out of my system.)

I like stories that are more about the observations and ability to connect with readers that have similar thoughts. I’m not saying plot isn’t important, but after reading and writing short stories for my fiction workshops during college, I’ve learned to appreciate this aspect to storytelling. It’s not like Catcher in the Rye is the only book to do this. Hell, it’s not like books are the only thing to do this. Movies do this, too. Clerks is a pretty good example of not a lot happening in the plot but still being able to show something through character interactions and observations. But literature and films aren’t the same, and I guess it’s not completely fair to try comparing the two. I think the point I’m trying to make is, some people need a beginning. They need people physically going places and physically doing things, and they need to be more interesting than everyday events. Some people need a bad guy. Some people need a romantic interest. And then other people need characters to relate to. To have a story make a comment or observation about real life that makes the reader feel like they’re not alone. Different people come to books (and all forms of media) for different reasons, and I think Catcher in the Rye is one of those books that only caters to a certain type of audience.

What about Holden Caulfield? Well, like the way the story is presented, people either seem to love or hate him. A lot of what I said about appreciating the writing style can be applied to appreciating the main character, so I don’t think I need to go over him too much in that regard. What I do want to try to talk about is why Holden (and I guess to an extent, the book, although the book and Holden are so closely linked they may as well be one entity) is obsessed over, for better or worse.

Liking or hating Holden Caulfield also seems to be closely linked to the reader’s personality and tastes. People like characters. People don’t like characters. They finish the book and move on.

Not Holden. Like the characters in Twilight, people hear someone talking about them and come rushing over, either adding praise or criticism. Is it something in the hype? Catcher in the Rye is a pretty popular book, I guess. Everyone knows it and most people have read it at least once. But it’s old. And yeah, it’s talked about a decent amount in literature circles, but it’s not like there’s a ton of posters and t-shirts waiting in a bookstore for a herd of fans to pick up (you need to go online for that). If you didn’t like Catcher in the Rye, and you heard great things about it beforehand, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was at least a little hyped up.

But what about other popular classics? 1984? One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Lord of the Flies? Anything by Shakespeare? There’s a ton of stuff just as popular as Catcher in the Rye, and while it gets its fair share of hate as much as love, it never seems nearly as bipolar as the love and hate this book receives. It’s almost like you have to dedicate yourself to loving or hating it.

So is there something else? Well… all right, hear me out. Let’s say you know someone who has a lot of trouble expressing themselves. This person is very lost in life and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. They want to do something, there’s a definite drive there, but they don’t know what it is and they wear themselves out trying to think of it. They have a lot to say about a lot of things, and despite needing to get it off their chest and needing someone to listen, understand, and try to support them through life, it can come off as very whiny.

Sound familiar? Are you one of these people? Were you one of these people? Do you know someone like this? Do they frustrate you? Is the situation frustrating because you want to help them but can’t, and you get mad at them? Do they simply annoy you?

Holden Caulfield is one of the most real characters I’ve come across, for better or worse. Holden has serious emotional issues. He needs help. It’s hard to see for a lot of people because it comes off as whining. But as my regular readers may be aware of, I write a lot of posts about mental health and trying to cope with things. I can’t help but feel the ability to understand, tolerate, and deal with mental health is a big factor in dealing with Holden. A lot of people complain that the only reason fans of Holden Caulfield like him so much is because they are him.

You know what? Yeah. We are. Not all of us have our shit together. Not all of us have found our place. Not all of us can communicate with other people the way we’d like. Not all of us have found somebody. A lot of us are lonely and scared and angry and need to know we’re not the only people in the world like that. Looking at Holden at a personal level, this is why we love him. And I don’t think that’s something we should be ashamed of. Should we aim to be like him? No. Should we aim to recite his word as law? No. That’s not the point of Holden, or any flawed character for that matter. He’s a mirror that shows some parts of our lives, whether it’s past or present, and we take comfort in knowing we’re not alone.

Communicating with many people that hate Catcher in the Rye is like communicating with people that either don’t have a tolerance for people with depression and other mental health issues, or don’t understand them.

At least for me.

I don’t want to generalize, but if I’m going by my personal interactions with people that hate Holden, this seems to be a recurring theme. Maybe this is why I felt the need to try understanding why people hate or love this book so much, and the need to voice my own opinions about that love and hate. I reread this book last week, and I honestly couldn’t help but notice the similarities between how people talk about Catcher in the Rye and how people deal with mental health. I don’t want to criticize anyone by saying that, or assume anything, or make any kind of hurtful statement to those that genuinely don’t like the book. But the way people almost unprovocatively lash out at Catcher in the Rye makes me feel like they have some personal issue with someone like Holden Caulfield.

Or maybe not. Who knows? Maybe they really just hated the book and that was that, and I’m looking too much into other people’s reactions. :p

At any rate, I hope this made some sense. It’s a little hard for me to put my thoughts about all this together, and I’m sorry if it turned into a bit of a jumbled mess. If it’s been a while since you’ve read Catcher in the Rye, whether you loved or hated your last read, try it again. I think this is going to be one of those books that affects people in different ways at different times in life.

Info for my edition of The Catcher in the Rye:

  • Published 2001 by Back Bay Books
  • Paperback, 277 pages
  • ISBN 9-780316-769174
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Mentally Preparing for Families During the Holidays

Thanksgiving’s this week, and the rest of the family-centric end-of-year holidays are approaching too. If you’re reading this, chances are you have some family issues. Maybe they put you down. Maybe you never feel good enough for them. Maybe they just piss you off. Whatever the case, holidays can be extremely stressful and take a heavy toll on our mental health.

I want to remind everyone not to let the obnoxious tendencies of our families bring us down. As much as I hate the holidays, even I’ll admit they’re supposed to be good experiences. But I know sometimes there’s no helping it, and they’re not going to go well, no matter how much positive thinking you’re going to bring. So it’s really important to remember to take care of yourself during this time of year.

You should try spending as much time around people that have a positive effect on your life as possible. I know it’s not always easy, especially the older we get, but don’t forget about all the different forms of communication we have today. There’s texting, social media, Skype, and the good old fashioned phone call. Even if you can’t see them, remember to keep in touch with the people that make you happier during this time of year.

Make extra time to do things that make you happy, too. Read more, write more, play more games, watch more movies, take more walks – do more of the stuff that stops you from focusing on the bad. If you’re going to have to deal with hurtful experiences with family, the least you can do is walk into those situations as recharged and happy as you can possibly be.

Like I mentioned in my post about unwanted house guests, there are some things you can do to take the edge off having to deal with family. I recommend checking it out if you want more details, but to add to that list, don’t be afraid to show up a little late or leave a little early. Everyone’s situation is different, but make something up. If you’re having guests over at 3:00, say you were invited to another person’s place to celebrate the holidays and you’ll be back at 4:00. Or not at all, if you can get away with that. Say you have work very early the following morning, so you should go home earlier to sleep. Pretend you’re sick. I don’t want to encourage lying, but when family’s driving you to the point of a mental breakdown, you have to play a little dirty. Do something personally fulfilling both before and after the main event so you won’t have to end the day on such a bummer note.

I wish there was some kind of universal advice I can give to make it through this, but there isn’t. I can only encourage you to take care of your mental health and make it through the holidays with as little damage as possible. Take care of yourselves, guys. And treat yourselves to a soft pretzel or cinnamon bun or something when it’s all over. ❤

Change Is Scary

Hey! I’m moving soon! Hey! I’m not handling it well! Hey! I suppose now’s a good time to talk about change.

CHANGE (pronounced in an unpleasant, hesitant, through clenched teeth kind of way) is something a lot of people struggle with, including me. Absolutely including me. I don’t view the word “change” as neutral or context sensitive. (And to those ready to say, “well what about when you change a tire or change into your pajamas: please don’t be that person. We all know what we mean by “change” right now.)

To me, change is bad. Most people don’t normally think of the word “change” during positive events. “I started dating an amazing person!” isn’t viewed as a positive change, but instead as dating an amazing person. “I broke up with an amazing person,” however, is viewed as change. We think of the horrible ways this change affects us. No more cuddling. No more emotional support. No more love. I don’t need to explain the reasons why this change sucks, do I? I think you guys are smart enough to fill in your own answers.

I think by default, the concept of things changing is negatively viewed. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. But that word seems to swim through my head more frequently when negative things start impacting my life. I don’t want to sound like I’m promoting the idea of things staying the same in a closed off bubble world for all eternity, but when something shitty happens and it in no way makes your life better, I think it’s a little unrealistic to believe the positive person that continues insisting that “change is good.”

I get that the pro-change crowd is only trying to help when they say this to people suffering because of change. Yeah, okay guys. I get it. I appreciate the effort into making us feel better. Please try to see things from our perspective, though. Those that have been affected by change, especially those that have difficulty talking about how hard it’s been for them, really really don’t need to be told that change can be a good thing. It feels like you’re writing us off, like you’re saying the problems change has brought us aren’t really affecting us. If you really want to help, the best way is by understanding our position and trying to be there for us. You don’t need to solve our problems, you don’t need to try fixing us, you just need to be there for us.

That being said…

There is… a certain… truth… in what they say (also spoken in an unpleasant, hesitant, through clenched teeth kind of way).

Oh, and believe me, I don’t want to admit that. I really, really don’t want to admit that. I’m still for my stance on change being a negative thing.

But when something negative changes your life… sometimes there’s something else that happens as a side effect. Sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes.

All right, here’s an example. After my first semester of college, my best friend stopped talking to me. She was going to school in a different state, she stopped answering her phone, she stopped responding to E-mails, she basically disappeared. There was no warning, there was no closure, and it left me feeling abandoned. How else was I supposed to feel? The person who, throughout the entirety of high school, I’d talked to every day, confided in, made inside jokes with, and unfortunately, had feelings for, just disappeared. Had I done something? Was I not good enough to be friends with anymore? Did the knowledge of my feelings for her ultimately make her not want to deal with me anymore? Well, I’ll never know. I convinced myself that she was better than me and I didn’t deserve her as a friend, and that I did deserve to be given up on.

Fast forward a few years later. One of my friends from a creative writing workshop introduced me to another one of his friends. He eventually had to go, but me and her continued talking for hours. We clicked instantly. She said we should meet around campus and hang out more often. We exchanged numbers and each day that we were on campus with one another, we sat and talked. We talked for hours. If I wasn’t in class, I was either waiting for her to get out of class or actually hanging out with her. We texted each other at night, and we eventually started calling each other more frequently too. One night we talked for six hours. For the first time in years, I felt like I had an actual best friend again. It felt like I was making some substantial progress with my life, which for the longest time, felt stuck in time.

The best part was that both of us felt comfortable enough to open up to each other with unresolved issues from our pasts. She was the first person to really care and try helping me with my issues involving my best friend from high school. I told her everything that happened. I was a completely open book. She was the one that helped me realize I’d been bottling everything up for years. She was the one that convinced me to try therapy. She was going and it was really helping her. She made me aware of the wellness center at my college. She became an extremely important and essential part of my life, and I’d only known her for a couple of months.

Well, sometime during winter break she stopped answering my texts. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but when a week went by and she didn’t even try getting back to me, I started to panic. Memories of trying to talk to my best friend from high school started overflowing from the bottle I’d corked them all in. I was terrified the same thing was going to happen again. After years of trying to find another friend to have that kind of connection with, I’d finally found one, and as each day went by, the realization that the same thing was about to happen again kept washing over me. Only this time it hurt more. The first time allowing myself to form a friendship like this since high school, and it ended in the exact same way. And she knew how much that kind of ending affected me, too. No, this time was definitely worse.

I didn’t handle it well. I don’t remember what I started texting her when I tried getting in touch, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything that would make her start wanting to talk to me again. Don’t get me wrong, with both this girl and my former best friend, I was by no means always easy to deal with. But to go from what we had to simply not speaking for no reason… I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t handle it well, but I think I deserved a reason for why they did what they did.

As you can imagine, I had a lot to talk about when I returned to therapy once school resumed in the spring. I viewed the entire loss as an unneeded change. I felt like I was finally moving forward. After years of trying, I’d not only made a close friend, but… well… a friend. People came into and out of my life with each semester and no one really hung around long enough to form a friendship with. The change with this girl only brought me down to my lowest emotional point I’d as yet experienced. What did it do for me? What good came out of this? How, in any way, shape, or form, was this good?

Well… therapy came out of it. I needed it, and eventually the bottle I’d stored all my feelings in was going to burst at some point. Do I feel like I needed the loss of another close friend to start the healing process? No. Do I feel like there was a better, less painful way to acknowledge I have issues and to seek proper help for them? Yes.

But the fact is, this whole thing happened. And therapy, and thus this long, not even close to finished road to recovery began. It was a side effect from change.

I’m still not saying this change was positive, even if it may have been… needed, for lack of a better word. There must have been better ways to get to where I am now. I’m just saying sometimes, when looking at the bigger picture… I don’t know. Sometimes there are some side effects to change that may be, what the pro-change crowd, would consider… good.

I hope that made sense. Telling this story took a lot more out of me than I thought. Drawing cats and toast is definitely easier.

Hang in there.

“Seasonal” Bad Memories

Sometimes, something happens to make you dread a certain time of year. Maybe a relative died in December, and now you can’t enjoy Christmas because you’re constantly reminded of her passing. You could have had a handful of crappy birthdays over the past few years, and now you don’t even want to celebrate it. The first sight of flowers blooming in the spring and the overall sensation of the warmer weather might make you recall a significantly bad breakup, and now you have to deal with the memories until the heat of summer arrives.

We’ve all got something like this that we’d like to forget about. I’ve had many over the years. Some I’ve gotten over, and some are going to take a little longer. And unfortunately, there’s probably going to be an event in the future that will make you dread another upcoming time.

Recovery is hard, we all know that. This is why it’s essential to take those steps to not letting our past conditioning make us hate present moments. Like it or not, Christmas, birthdays, and spring are going to come every year. The sooner you can let yourself enjoy them, the sooner you can move past those bad memories.

Keeping busy can help. The more you do, the better chance you’ll create new memories to overshadow the bad ones. Try adding new routines during these times. Make a point to see family or friends more regularly. Maybe have lunch or dinner with someone every week or two. Binge-watch a TV series you’ve been meaning to try out. Start a new book series. Take more walks. Take more drives. See if there are any local events you can attend. There’s a lot of ways to fill up time and distract yourself than you may think.

Of course, some memories just won’t leave you alone no matter how busy you keep yourself. If you still find your life plagued during these times, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to work on some self-help. Do some searches online for people that have had similar problems and see how they handled things (and if they’re still struggling, at least you can take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone). There’s a chance these memories could be connected to another, bigger problem such as a depressive or anxiety disorder. Take some time to research possible reasons for why you feel the way you do. In the long run, they’ll help you understand your past more clearly and let you handle it more maturely.

Whatever you do, try not to let life pass by when these memories become too crippling. It’s really easy to dwell on things, but much more satisfying to let yourself enjoy these times when your past is trying to hold you back. Good luck! 🙂