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,
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.