Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salinger Month


Despite the million pop culture references to The Catcher in the Rye and J.D. Salinger I had never picked up anything by him, so this month I set out to remedy that. The book team, thanks to Nick, started with Franny and Zooey. The Glass family is a tortured lot of savants, misfits, and geniuses, and without Salinger it is apparent that there would be no Max Fischer or Tennenbaum family. Next I hit a few of the Nine Stories, specifically “For Esmé with Love and Squalor”, and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” both of which I enjoyed, especially Esmé. Lastly I read The Catcher in the Rye.

I saw pretty quickly why Salinger is as revered as he his. His ability to assume the voice of a character, to craft dialogue that is outrageous, witty, and full of humor, his balance of both lightness and darkness, adulthood and youth, are all unique. A lot of it was bildungsroman, which is perhaps why it appeals so much to the young generations. The Catcher in the Rye felt very black comedy. Holden is so full of both wisdom and flaws. He feels he’s a victim and that he’s the only one. I loved the section when Mr. Antolini tells him, “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” My expectations were through the roof on this one, and I wasn’t let down, but neither was I blown away. “Don’t ever tell anyone anything,” he says. And what am I doing? I’m telling you something. That’s what I’m doing.

Franny and Zooey was my favorite, probably due to the subject matter more than the writing itself. Spirituality and religion are integral to the story, which I’m always thinking about anyway, and I was really affected by the book as it built to its redemptive, climactic end. And Zooey is so ruthless with her! This is beautiful interaction and I was moved when he told her to be God’s actress. Zooey says, “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not on anyone else’s.” How often do we approach our relationships or our art or our hobbies and all we do is try to achieve some arbitrary, socially imposed objective? And pretty soon we are pandering, in whatever it is we are doing, not to some real value, but to something false and hollow and thin. And our worship becomes that way too, and I think that is what Franny was struggling so much to come to grips with spiritually. There is always going to be some level of hypocrisy among the practitioners of any faith, and she is so fed up with phonies that she commits herself blindly and wholeheartedly to a worship she doesn’t fundamentally understand.

That’s my take, if you really want to hear about it.

6 comments:

Jen said...

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”

Interesting...I've heard a similar one regarding masculine/feminine ideals. Men seek out a cause worth fighting & dying for. Women seek out a cause worth living for.

Les M. Blake said...

I like the feminine/masculine take. I believe it is very often true.

The Salinger quote in context appears to be a quote itself of a psychologist named Wilhelm Stekel, who was apparently an early proponent of Freud.

Nick said...

We have yet to pick a bad book.. Who will it be Les - You or me?

ali said...

"Catcher" is my favorite. Mostly because when Holden cusses it is so funny. I sometimes want to name one of my kids Holden, but I wonder if he is too flawed to be named after. But in many ways, I think he's a hero; he is the catcher in the rye, afterall.

I want to be in your book group.

Also, have you seen Anderson's "Bottle Rocket"? I think he draws from Salinger all the time: the relationship between Luke Wilson and his kid sister is very much like Holden and Phoebe.

And the part where Dignan says "What did she ever do with her life?" never gets old.

Les M. Blake said...

Ali,

Yes, "Bottle Rocket" is classic material. Probably my favorite line in the film is when Anthony (Luke's character) is outside the bar with his girl and that dude comes up and says something to her in spanish then goes into the bar and Anthony gets all uncomfortable...Boy was that guy a chatterbox! I didn't think he'd ever shut up!

good stuff.

We call it a book group, but really it is just two friends who used to be English Majors. We do one book together a month. It is a pretty informal affair. No one's ever wanted to read with us before, thats kind of flattering.

Les M. Blake said...

Ali,

Yes, "Bottle Rocket" is classic material. Probably my favorite line in the film is when Anthony (Luke's character) is outside the bar with his girl and that dude comes up and says something to her in spanish then goes into the bar and Anthony gets all uncomfortable...Boy was that guy a chatterbox! I didn't think he'd ever shut up!

good stuff.

We call it a book group, but really it is just two friends who used to be English Majors. We do one book together a month. It is a pretty informal affair. No one's ever wanted to read with us before, thats kind of flattering.