Previously I shared my evolution in reading as I grew up – from whodunits to Shakespeare.
But there’s one book I left out, because it was so paramount in my development not only as a writer but as a person, that I needed a whole other post to explain why it was (and is) so important to me. In fact, I paid homage to it in MELT, making it the book Dorothy gives Joey for his birthday.
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.” ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
The book that changed – and saved – my life was The Catcher in the Rye. Ironically, I read it in sixth grade because Parker Stevenson (who played Frank Hardy on TV) told Tiger Beat Magazine that it was his favorite book. I really didn’t understand all the implications, but I identified with Holden Caulfield. I read it again a couple of years later, for a class. And I loved it even more.
“Then [old Lillian] introduced me to [her date,] the Navy guy. His name was Commander Blop or
something. He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you.”
–Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye
There’s so much humor in this passage, but there’s even more truth. Think about how much you learn about the Navy guy in this simple narrative: you can see him, even though he hasn’t been fully described.
Think about what you learn about Holden.
This book is my bible for characterization.
The entire scene with Commander Blop is priceless – my favorite in the book, because it says so much with so little. He and the commander say it was nice to meet each other, even though it wasn’t really. Holden then says:
“I am always saying "Glad to've met you" to somebody I'm not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Consider what Holden’s fantasy career is, being the catcher in the rye. That says it all: that he wants to save kids from falling off the cliff. And of course he’s begging for someone to save him. That’s what I wanted too.
“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
In a way, I think I’m the catcher in the rye – stopping kids from falling with my words. Letting them know they’re not alone. Maybe that was J.D. Salinger’s intention when he wrote this book. Certainly, he was my catcher.
Holden’s grief over his dead brother Allie affected me so much – and it was one of two inspirations for The Girl Next Door. (I wrote about this extensively during my GND blog tour, so I won’t do it again.) But I will give you one quote about Allie:
“The thing was, I couldn't think of a room or a house or anything to describe the way Stradlater said he had to have. I'm not too crazy about describing rooms and houses anyway. So what I did, I wrote about my brother Allie's baseball mitt. It was a very descriptive subject. It really was. My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder's mitt. He was left-handed. The thing that was descriptive about it, though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He's dead now. He got leukemia and died when we were up in Maine, on July 18, 1946. You'd have liked him...God, he was a nice kid, though. He used to laugh so hard at something he thought of at the dinner table that he just about fell off his chair.”
I cry when I read about Allie, every time. I feel Holden’s grief.
And here’s one more quote, when Holden is thinking about Allie all alone in the cemetery:
“When you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.”
I could quote this book for hours. It’s the best YA novel ever, in my opinion, even though there were no such things as YA novels when it was written. I’m not sure if labeling books with teen protagonists has done anything for literature. I know it’s created a market for books churned out for teens – but I feel like literature itself has suffered. Because anyone can – and should – read a brilliant book, whether they’re in the same age as the character or not. I mean, how limiting is a label?
But that’s a blog post for another time.
Thanks for having me again, Joli! And thanks for reading this, everyone!
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Publication Date: November 6, 2014
Published by Last Syllable Books