So, less than 24 hours ago, I alluded to the next Book that Shaped my Life: The Catcher in the Rye. It’s almost a cliche to include this novel in a list of “most influential books,” but maybe I’ll rise above the obvious when I say that as a suicidal teen questioning her sexuality and completely ostracized by what is normal, well, let’s just say this book hit a little close to the mark.
I think the main reason why kids today absolutely love the one required book they are assigned is the universality of Holden Caulfield. He is more than the quintessential anti-hero; he is the poster boy of lost souls. When you cannot make sense of yourself in a world of tropes, Holden calls out and says, “Hey, I’m lost, too.” There are no easy answers from his tale, but long before It Gets Better, Holden was a candle in the night (and, yes, J.D. Salinger would flog me for that cliche, which—not so incidentally—I might like).
Catcher is not simply a story of a boy searching for identity, but it definitely speaks to any person lost inside his human shell and utterly disillusioned by what life has to offer. You don’t have to be a student of Schopenhauer to realize that Mr. Salinger taps into that universal existential knowledge that some people simply cannot escape. And even if we could, there is some comfort in having that truth spelled out: “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.”