Salinger's "Catcher,' then and now

The power to cut through cant

The book that shook my generation— or did it?
The book that shook my generation— or did it?

No bullshit. No effort to sell a bill of goods. Answer to adults wishing to shape the world as they saw fit: No! Very, very engaging for my high school freshman brain.

Perhaps that fundamental resistance was the single most powerful message I took away from J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Also, I loved the idea that Holden Caulfield's little sister wanted to accompany him on his travels. Especially since the idea that my baby sister would want to go anywhere with me was preposterous.

Through the years I continued to be charmed by Salinger's desire for privacy— a vigorous, hide-in-my-house, no interviews, kind of anti-celebrity. Really sorry to see him go. Guess I hoped that somehow he'd pull one more profound rabbit out of his hat, and drop it right in our fame-seeking faces. But, then, maybe an unpublished manuscript remains to remind us of Salinger's power to cut through cant.

At a social agency board dinner in Sacramento last night (14 ethnically-mixed folks), I asked how many had read Catcher. Seven. Then I inquired about their strongest memories of the book. Zip.

Only the agency exec, a Ph. D. psychologist, had a related story. Years ago he had a job in New Hampshire that required him to drive by J.D.'s house twice a day. On a couple of occasions, he vividly recalled, he drove by too slowly for Salinger's taste, and Salinger waved a double-barreled shotgun at him.

Unlike me, most of these folks went to high school, college and grad school in the West. I realized that Catcher resonated much more with us Eastern types. And, to be expected, with whites much more than people of color.♦


To read another commentary by Dan Rottenberg, click here.