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TSS: Books That Change With You

tssbadge1J.D. Salinger’s death this week has saddened me.  He was 91, and I know we’d all be fortunate to live that long, but it’s still sad to know that a powerful voice has gone out.  I’ve only ever read The Catcher in the Rye of his works, though I’d like to read more (and always have, but somehow haven’t yet).  The rest of this post may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read it yet, skip down to the questions in bold.

I first read Catcher in my junior year of high school, when I was a pretty good example of a teenager convinced that everyone in the world is a phony.  My best friend at the time was studying abroad in Germany for the year, my first boyfriend had got together with someone else, and in general I felt sort of emotionless, trapped in this world I didn’t really want.  I hated high school.  Holden Caulfield didn’t save me, that took college, but he brought a new perspective into my life, and as a result I loved the book.  I got a copy of my own, intending to reread it.

It took four years and a children’s lit class for me to read it again, and I was worried about my reaction.  I was older and I’d been through a lot.  In fact, my entire life changed in those four years, so much so that it was virtually unrecognizable.  My brother had died in the most horrific six month period of any of our lives, I had a steady boyfriend and spent summers in England, and I lived in a different state with different friends and different needs.  I wasn’t a teenager and certainly not one that wanted to rage against the world.  And it was from that perspective I read the book, and I still loved it even when almost everyone in the class couldn’t stand Holden and his complaining.  Why?  Because his brother died too.  His brother died, and it messed with him, and I could understand him in a totally different way.  I could see how it could change his life and make him a cynic and a whiner, because I could have slid that way myself.  I could see why he wanted so badly to protect his sister – and all children – more than ever.  I would bet that no one else in that class had ever lost a sibling and they couldn’t put themselves in the book as easily as I could then.  It astonished me that the class didn’t get it. Of course, every book is different for every reader, but no one picked up on what a difference that death made.  The book didn’t change, but I did, and the entire book became much, much more than it was.

I also wanted to say here that maybe I was wrong, but honestly, I still really believe that was the drive behind Holden’s behavior, and so I can’t bring myself to.

Has a book ever changed for you as your perspectives on life changed?  Have you ever felt radically different about a book than everyone else?

17 comments to TSS: Books That Change With You

  • I completely understand. I didn’t go through that particular experience (*hugs*), but it always seemed to matter to me that he did in the book. I hope this doesn’t sound mean, or like I’m judging people who dislike Catcher, because I’m not – but it has always surprised me a little that so many people react to Holden so unsympathetically, and with so much hostility. When I read the book, I don’t seen a cynical, jaded kid. I see a kid in pain trying to hide behind his bravado, and completely failing too. His emotional turmoil is so visible, and it feels so real to me.
    .-= Nymeth´s last blog ..Blankets by Craig Thompson =-.

  • I totally agree with Nymeth. I am also so surprised when readers don’t take the time to think about what would make Holden the way he was. I didn’t lose a sibling, but I had lost a friend to leukemia when we were in 6th grade and maybe that helped inform my reading (and that of my whole class — only 90 people in a grade, so we were all affected by the young death). Maybe it was my generation in general.

    As bloggers read Catcher in the Rye for the first time, I’ll be paying attention to their reactions. I hate to sound really old here, but it’s hard for me to believe that there are people over the age of 18 (in the United States anyway) that haven’t read the book — what do they teach in school these days? ;-)
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Let the BLOB Game Begin! =-.

  • I’m going to join the February readalong at A Reader’s Respite:

    http://readersrespite.blogspot.com/2010/01/remembering-salinger.html

    and I have to say, just dipping into the opening chapters again, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think I’m going to get a lot more out of the book on a second reading.
    .-= Miss Moppet´s last blog ..The Alphabet in Historical Fiction: D is for Dialogue =-.

  • The book that changed my view of marriage (in a good way) is American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s my absolute favorite book because it’s both wonderful and it resonated perfectly with me at the time and place I read it. No one seems to love it quite as much as I do, which is fine. My reasons for loving it have so much to do with who I was when I read it. It is a great book, but I admit it is not the best book ever written. Given the choice, however, I’ll take my favorite over the best any day.
    .-= nomadreader´s last blog ..book review: Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman =-.

  • You know, over the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of press about how Catcher in the Rye doesn’t “speak” to the younger generations of people any more, that they find him whiny. I think the NY Times did a whole thing on it as did other publications. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a book changing for me as prominently as Catcher did for you, but I feel like if I reread books now, I might get them more. I think that would happen if I were to read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, or maybe some Dickens.
    .-= Aarti´s last blog ..TSS: What Impact Does Your Blog Have? =-.

  • I can certainly see why this book affected you so much. It’s been so long since I read Catcher that I don’t remember much beyond thinking it was fantastic. I should probably re-read it.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Our Life in France – banking, money and numbers =-.

  • I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye, but reading your post certainly makes me want to. I can’t say that any book has ever had such a profound effect on me as that.
    .-= BooksPlease´s last blog ..Favourite Places – Stratford-upon-Avon =-.

  • I was saddened by the news of Salinger’s death too, Meghan. I remember how excited I was when I first read The Catcher in the Rye. I knew it was on a few banned book lists and that especially intrigued me, even in high school. I loved it when I read it. My husband has expressed an interest in reading it for the first time and I think I’ll do a re-read. See how it’s changed for me.

    I so rarely reread books and so can’t really answer your question about a book that changed for me as I changed. I did like Pride and Prejudice much better the second time around, but I can’t say it was because of a change in circumstance other than I think I was better able to appreciate Jane Austen’s writing.

    Reading for me is such a personal experience. I internalize them and make them my own when I read. And I really do believe that our experiences and where we are in a moment impact our reading experience, just as you described with The Catcher in the Rye.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Sunday Salon: What I Plan to Read Next =-.

  • I read Catcher in the Rye in high school and remember really enjoying it. I am probably due for a re-read though.

    One of my favorite books is At Home in the World, by Joyce Maynard. It is a memoir of the time she lived with Salinger as his girlfriend and is very captivating. If you haven’t read it, you should!
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Book Review: New Orleans Cemeteries =-.

  • In light of your post, I think I may have enjoyed Catcher for much the same reason. I didn’t lose a sibling, but I lost a couple of integral family members around that time, and it did make me very cynical and generally just sad and moody. I could relate to Holden “after the fact” when many others my age (early 20s) could not relate anymore.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..Article: "The Man in the Glass House" =-.

  • I had a really hard time with CATCHER IN THE RYE and ultimately didn’t end up enjoying the book at ALL because I just didn’t enjoy spending the time with Holden, even if he did have a good reason to act as he did. However, I’m glad that this book was there for you in multiple circumstances and I really appreciate you sharing your experience with CATCHER IN THE RYE with us.
    .-= Jen – Devourer of Books´s last blog ..O, Juliet – Book Review =-.

  • Thank you for such a personal post about your reactions to the book.

    When I read the book, I just felt he was whiny…probably did not view him from the angle you describe.

    Isn’t it strange how intensely personal our reactions to books are? So much more than movies somehow!
    .-= Nish´s last blog ..Snubnose is Starting Young! =-.

  • I am not sure if I have an answer to your question, but I wanted to say that your post was just beautiful and very heartfelt. I can appreciate why you had such a visceral reaction to Holden, and I think it makes perfect sense.
    .-= zibilee´s last blog ..Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran – 448 pgs =-.

  • It’s weird how often you find just the right book at the right time. Most likely we all notice the elements that apply to our situation much more if we read a book like this after a big life event. I think that’s kind of wonderful because it makes an extra special connection between your life and the book, in kind of the same way we all have pieces of music that reconnect us with things in life and make more sense once we’ve experienced those things. It can be really comforting to find someone who has been through what you have and I think that extends to fictional characters.
    .-= Jodie´s last blog ..The Mariposa Club – Rigoberto Gonzalez =-.

  • I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. {{{hugs!}}} I’ve never read Catcher In the Rye, but considering what I know about modern teenagers (and I do live with one), I find it deliciously ironic they would accuse any character of being too whiny. Pot, meet kettle.

    My view of books always changes whenever I reread them. I think that’s why I tend to shy away from reading books that I seriously love, like Jane Eyre–I’m always afraid that I’ll ruin the book for myself.
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..Who Is the YA Audience? =-.

  • Oh, one more thing–did you see Colbert’s tribute to Salinger the other night? http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/263254/february-02-2010/bananafish-tale—henry-allen
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..Who Is the YA Audience? =-.

  • That is so interesting. I wrote my tribute a few days ago but it was a comment that led me to remember that I had read it in high school shortly after my dad had passed away. I had forgotten how angry I was. I remember loving the book and totally getting what Holden was going through. My father and I were really close and he had struggled on and off with cancer for almost ten years before we lost him. So while I wan’t angry at God or the world or anyone in particular, I still had this rage. And I got Holden. And I still do.

    Thank you for your honesty and insightful post.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Duel Review Coming Soon =-.