Review of The Catcher in the Rye


The Catcher in the Rye took only a few days to read.

Reading it as an older adult I expected to hate it, since it’s generally believed to be a book for young people, but that’s not what happened. The more I read, the more sympathetic I was to Holden and the more appalled I was at the way he had been treated by his parents. I don’t know that I like him very much, but I do feel sorry for him.

It’s a novel about growing up and not wanting to grow up. Holden seems to want to grow up, but he also delights in children and the things that delight them. Probably the happiest moment in the book is Holden watching his sister on the merry-go-round in the rain. Much as he wants to grow up, he’s also afraid of growing up. When he does grow up, will he stop being himself, as his older brother has?

As many readers of the book point out, there is no plot. All that happens is that Holden is expelled from school and returns to New York, where he lives. Such incident as there is is crammed into the last few pages of the novel. It is, however, what happened before the novel even begins that’s important and this is revealed slowly through Holden’s thoughts as he tries to work out what to do next.

Holden is obnoxious and irritating, and he lies and pretends to be grown up in all the wrong ways. He’s also a boy who loves his siblings and was very close to his younger brother who died. He likes poetry and reading and he’s kind. Right at the beginning of the book he tells the reader that he’s very ill and the signs of that illness become clearer over the few days covered by the novel.

This is definitely a book to read more than once.


End of Week Five


I’ve begun The Catcher in the Rye and it’s not at all as I remember it. The first time I read it, over thirty years ago, I was already a little older than Holden Caulfield. I enjoyed the book, but I’m fairly sure I found him annoying.  I’m almost halfway through and this time I’m more annoyed with his parents than I am with him.

Holden’s attitude in the first few pages is off-putting, but, as his day goes on, he becomes a lot more sympathetic. I think seventeen-year-olds must have been both more mature and less mature in the late 1940s when the book was written. Holden is more innocent than teenagers today in many ways, but he feels the need to behave like an adult in others.


Alec Guinness’ book A Positively Final Appearance continues to be a great delight, if somewhat muted by his references to theatrical greats who were still alive when he wrote his journal twenty years ago but have long since died. The world he wrote about seems far more distant than just two decades away. I read about events I remember, such as the 1997 general election and the death of Princess Diana, but they’re almost like ancient history when encountered through words written at the time.

Some of the best parts of the book are his recollections of things that happened in the 1930s. It’s always interesting to read something written by an intelligent observer and to see how close, or not, the world today is to the one they thought it would be. Guinness was very prescient.


The Plague Charmer continues to be trying. Now that I look at it again, I can see that the cover really is a clue that this is not a historical novel. I shall persevere for a bit longer.

Books read in the challenge – 2

Books read this year – 5

The Group Reads The Catcher in the Rye


I started this challenge because I’m a member of the Catching up on Classics group on Goodreads and this is their ‘Old and New’ challenge. By coincidence the book chosen for the group read for January was Doctor Zhivago. It was on my list before I knew it was the group read,  but I was going to read it later in the year. I’m very glad that I decided to bring it forward, as it got the year off to a good start. Another of the twelve books on my list has been chosen for the group read in February, so I thought I’d join in with The Catcher in the Rye.

I read it about thirty years ago, but all I can remember is that it’s about a disgruntled American teenager. I’d always thought it was the only book J.D. Salinger wrote, but he also wrote some short stories and novellas.

Salinger was born in 1919 and the novel was published in 1951. He became a recluse after its great success and died in 2010. The Catcher in the Rye is still very popular and divides opinions now as much as it did in the 50s.

I finished Phaedrus at the weekend. This is the review that I wrote on Goodreads:

Phaedrus is about relationships between friends and lovers. It’s also a case study in rhetoric. It even delves into the nature of philosophy.

I suspect that there is no way of translating it so that it’s easy to approach for the reader with little idea of what Plato was about. It’s probably a difficult text to translate at all. The introduction to the translation I read certainly hints that this is the case.

There are so many barriers between a modern-day reader and a text like this. Even someone as familiar with it and its context as Christopher Rowe, translator of the Penguin version, can’t understand all the allusions and idioms it contains and he doesn’t have the space to explain all the ones he does. His notes can’t tell us everything about living in Plato’s time in Plato’s city. He can’t provide a complete background to the discussion in terms of the history of philosophy or what other philosophers were saying at the same time. Some of the plays and poems Plato references have been lost and a summary of the ones that are extant would probably be longer than the discussion between the two men. Even the book’s setting of Socrates and Phaedrus meeting up and going for an early morning walk to discuss a speech written by someone else has meaning that’s not obvious to a casual reader like me.

As a book, Phaedrus is very short, but it’s a very dense, and difficult, read for the uninitiated.

The Twelve


Here they are, sitting innocently on their shelf: the twelve classics I’m intending to read in 2018.

  1. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (trans Max Hayward and Manya Harari)
  2. The Poetic Work of Rupert Brooke
  3. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  4. The Ambassadors by Henry James
  5. The Odyssey by Homer (trans E.V. Rieu)
  6. Phaedrus by Plato (trans C.J. Rowe)
  7. The Decameron by Boccaccio (trans G.H. McWilliam)
  8. Canzoniere by Petrarch (trans Anthony Mortimer)
  9. Erotic Poems by Ovid (trans Peter Green)
  10. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan (trans Rosalind Brown-Grant)
  11. The City of God by St Augustine (trans Henry Bettenson)
  12. Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

The two standbys are:

  1. Becket by Anouilh
  2. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

This is quite a heavy list and I know I have to start with Dr Zhivago, as it’s a group read in the Catching up on Classics group in January. The poems can be read throughout the year, although I might decide to read them in one go. One of the things I like about this kind of challenge is that I have no idea how I’ll feel about any of the books when I get to them.

I’m also going to start Troilus and Criseyde next week. The poem itself is just over 300 pages long, but my Middle English is very poor and I want to be able to read it properly. It will probably take several weeks to read it.

Obviously I’ll be reading other books during the year and I’ll probably be mentioning some of them as we go on.

By the time I post again, I’ll have started reading. I’m looking forward to meeting Dr Zhivago.


First Three Books

post 1900 books (2)

The first part of the challenge for me is to choose the three New School books. These are books written after 1900 but before 1999.

The long list is:

  1. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  2. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  3. Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  4. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
  5. The Caine Mutiny – Herman Wouk
  6. The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  7. The Poetic Work of Rupert Brooke
  8. Dr Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

I have felt for a long time that I ought to read more of Virginia Woolf.  I read Orlando years ago, but did not really get on with it. Mrs Dalloway is regarded as not being particularly easy, but it has the advantage of being fairly short. Some of the books I’m thinking of reading next year are very long.

Midnight’s Children is the most recent book on the list (although it beats The Collected Stories only by a few months) and it’s a book that I’ve been promising myself to read for over thirty years. I’d like to read it to find out what all the fuss was about.

I first read Catcher in the Rye as a teenager and remember nothing of it. I lost my first copy and bought a new one, which I also lost, finding it again only this year. It would be interesting to read it after a gap of a few decades.

There are two other American works on the list – The Caine Mutiny and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. I don’t very often read short stories, so I think they would add some variety. I’m only familiar with The Caine Mutiny through the film. My copy of the book is disintegrating, though, so I probably need to read it soon.

Whilst I haven’t owned The Quiet American for quite as long as you might think from the edition in the photograph, it’s been on my shelves for some years. The book is a second-hand copy and I have no idea where or when I bought it. I haven’t read any Greene, not even Brighton Rock, so this should probably make my final list.

Since I don’t read much poetry, I wanted to add a poet to my list. I have read some of Brooke’s poems over the years, but not all of them. He’ll definitely make the list.

I was going to leave Dr Zhivago until next year, or later, but the Catching up on Classics group has it down as a group read for January. For this reason, I think it will be the first book of the twelve that I read.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any advice about which ones to choose?