A banned book

Well, I really wanted to read a banned book, but it was late at night and the library was closed. So I had to look around the house to find a banned book that we already owned. Besides Captain Underpants, that is. Finally I found one: Catcher in the Rye. So here I am, rereading it for the first time since, what, tenth grade English.

The book I'm reading has one thing going for it, for sure. My copy is a hardcover Modern Library Edition, with the original dust jacket from 1951. I just love those old Modern Library books. Despite being hardcover, they open so flat. The paper feels lovely: smooth and substantial. The font, whatever it is, is so easy to read, and the perfect size. The margins aren't really wide enough, but that's okay because it opens so flat. All in all, pure joy to hold in your hands.

* * *
My parents have friends whose daughter is about seven or eight years older than me. When I was a kid I adored this older girl like you wouldn't believe. She was absolutely mesmerizing as well as hilarious, and really good with young kids. She would have made a fabulous elementary school teacher. When she was a freshman at U of M she invited the pre-teen Bookworm to spend the night in her dorm. I think it was little sisters' weekend or something, and why she invited me rather than her little sister I don't recall. Anyway, I got to spend the night in the dorm -- Pure Heaven -- and what I remember so vividly is her asking me if I'd ever read Catcher in the Rye. I'd never even heard of it, so she read the first chapter out loud to me. Read it out loud! Read it to me while I was lying in my sleeping bag on her dorm room floor. I do not usually like to be read to; I'd rather read it to myself, thanks. But when Cool Older Girl was doing the reading, well, that was a whole nother story and I listened avidly. I didn't think it was quite as great as she obviously thought it was, but I did finish it when I got home. (Strangely enough, my parents had this lovely Modern Library edition . . . )

* * *
When I was in college I went through a Franny and Zooey phase. I bet I'm not the only one out there who, at age 19 or thereabouts, thought it was the greatest novel ever written. I bet I'm not even the only one out there who emulated Zooey by taping bits of Sappho and Epictetus onto my wall. Here's a Sappho fragment that's still very dear to my heart, though Franny & Zooey is long gone:

We shall enjoy it

As for him who finds fault,
May silliness
and sorrow take him!

I'm sure Cool Older Girl, who's now a psychotherapist and the mother of two young children, isn't a big fan of Catcher in the Rye any more, either.

* * *
On the other hand, as precious and sophomoric as Catcher seems to me now, the banned aspect is giving me food for thought. I'm surprised at how much Holden talks about sex. My recollection of the book was that it had a bunch of goddams sprinkled liberally throughout, and towards the end you come across the f-word a couple of times. But now I'm finding all this stuff about knockers and flitty guys and going all the way. Now isn't that interesting? I didn't remember any of that! I'm sure that's because -- whooosh! -- it went straight over my head when I read it back then. Straight over my goddam head.


  • I just read that. I wasn't sure about it. Was he having a nervous breakdown? Is that what it was about?

    posted by Blogger Heather on 4:11 PM  

  • I dug that book when I was a teenager. I feel really awful, being a librarian, that I did not actually read a banned book this week. However, I have read more than half the books on the top 100 frequently challenged list and have a number of them in my school library.

    Anyway, I am trying to finish The Reef by Edith Wharton for book club on Wednesday.

    posted by Anonymous Nixie Knox on 4:44 PM  

  • Oh, yes, Franny and Zooey. And Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter. I'd like to re-read those books just to see how I'd react to them today. Oddly enough, I don't have any desire to re-read Catcher in the Rye. Maybe now that I'm an adult, I'm just a phony, as Holden Caulfield would say.

    posted by Blogger Suzanne on 10:58 PM  

  • Maybe it went over your head. Maybe you were in high school and you were so used to all that kind of talk that you didn't notice. That's how it was for me--I hope I'm not a phony, but I do think I'm more sensitive as a mom than as I was as a kid, even though I'm still in school, still hearing all kinds of crudeness. What the people who ban that book don't get is that kids identify with Holden precisely because he's surrounded by bleak nastiness and he's searching for a kind of childlike innocence or kindness or safety that he fears just isn't out there. I was THIS close to getting to teach it to my juniors when student teaching and didn't get to--and I remember at the time thinking, what if the parents freak out? But I reread it to prepare, anyway, and realized it was THE book they needed, more than they needed Of Mice and Men, which we had just finished. It does for high schoolers what The Outsiders does for middle schoolers--and as long as I'm a middle school teacher, I'll be teaching The Outsiders every year. Because it's down in the trenches with 'em, man. There are so few writers who can really step into the adolescent mind.

    posted by Anonymous Laura on 12:10 AM  

  • Heather, yup. Right at the beginning he talks about having to "come out here and take it easy" because of all this "madman stuff" that happened to him. The whole story is his explanation of his breakdown.

    Nixie, since you actually ARE a librarian you are doing PLENTY for the cause just by making the books available. You go girl!

    Suzanne, I had no desire either. It was all I could find on short notice. Though come to think of it, there's a few of those Nine Stories that might be worth going back to.

    Laura, you're so right. And I think it's because he does "step into the adolescent mind" so well that the book is a little hard to stomach now that I'm (*sigh*) a phony old grownup.

    posted by Blogger Julie on 7:51 AM  

  • Wow. I can't remember if I read Catcher in the Rye at school or not (I was having my own breakdown, thank you very much) but I know I read it when I was about 20 - I still have the copy that my then boyfriend leant me - and like other books about going mad (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Go Ask Alice, Bridge to Terabitha anything by Vera&Bill Cleaver) it left me feeling a bit weird...I think it is a good book though, perhaps dated in its language, but still worth Persevering. Talking of dated language, I recenlty bought a copy of Kim which I had never read, and have now started, and am working through, mostly late at night which doesn't help the comprehension.

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 8:13 AM  

  • I read this in 7th or 8 th grade I think. My aunt had an old copy of the book. I don't remember sex scenes, though. I guess they weren't scandalous or explicit enough?!?! I must have accepted those as normal. Can't remember the plot other than teenage turmoil.

    I do remember the cussing. I didn't like the book that much even though it was supposed to be so "cool." I DID like the names Franny and Zooey. I think that is what I liked the most about the book besides the title and the author's names. (Unusual strikes some sort of secret club chord in me.)

    That is SO COOL about your older friend and spending the time with her in her dorm! Guess what. I still have my aunt's book but it's paperback. It is also old.

    posted by Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) on 11:07 PM  

  • It took me years to get over taping bits of quotes to my wall. Years. In fact, there's still a little part of me that thinks it's a good idea.

    Is it any less pretentious of me if the books I tended to quote from were things like Harriet the Spy?

    posted by Blogger Phantom Scribbler on 3:15 PM