Friday, 21 March 2014
To re-read or not?
My Book Club recently read and discussed J D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The story takes place over one weekend, after the narrator, Holden Caulfield has been asked to leave his private boarding school. Holden basically runs away to New York, stays in a somewaht seedy hotel and sets out to behave like a grown up, smoking and drinking heavily through the weekend. He refuses to go his home, an apartment in Manhattan where his parents and younger sister live. He makes vague plans to run away out west and get a job on a ranch, but when his young sister tries to go with him, he backs away from the idea. His relationship with his parents is complicated, made more so by the death of an older brother, Allie, which happens before the story begins. and to whom Holden was very close.He is also very close to his sister Phoebe, even though she only ten to his sixteen years old.
Several of us had read before, some several decades ago. Re-reading a book after such a long time does put an entirely different light on it, as there is a whole life's experience to bring to the book which naturally changes one's perspective. One of the group could remember the excitement she felt on first reading it aged 18; now recently retired her feelings about the book were very different. I had read it about 4 or 5 years ago, so my emotions were not so different, but this time I appreciated the craft in the writing, the exposition of Holden Caulfield's emotions and actions so much more. One of the group queried its status as a classic novel, as it appears regularly on reading lists for GCSE and A level exams. I think because it is such a detailed description of a young man's mix of emotions about being or becoming an adult , or grown-up, that it has immediate appeal for the same age group, and also because the quality of the writing is so good are among the reasons that it is still being read some 60 years after it was published.
I do't often re-read books, but I'm glad I did with this one, as it is well worth a second read. Most classic become so because they are worth reading again and again, as each time we add something to our reading, a deeper exploration of character, narrative and plot, which adds to our sum of knowledge of self and of others.