Catcher in the Rye turns to dust.

book cover of catcher in the

Catcher in the Rye
Salinger
Mass Market Publication 1964
Original copyright 1951

Another Swedish Death Cleaning find…

No, I do not think for one second that Catcher in the Rye is awful. (Please don’t take the name of this website literally.) Personal aside, this book isn’t one of my favorites, my initial reading as a teenager was the 1970s version of “meh”. I re-read it as an adult in my 30s, as a project to re-read classics from high school and college. Unlike other classic titles, my opinion didn’t change too much.

That said, this book is part of my Swedish death cleaning project and it is my husband’s book. Actually, his older sister had her name in the book and I believe he “borrowed” it when he was in high school. Whoops.

Despite any personal feelings about Catcher in the Rye, it went on my weed list because it fell completely apart when I pulled it out. Many of the pages crumbled right in my hands. I am willing to bet that we haven’t touched this book since we shelved it in our current home.

When Holly and I go around preaching the gospel of weeding, I run into the library equivalent of something like Catcher in the Rye all the time:

“We can’t weed x particular title because it’s a classic.”
“What would people think if we weeded (insert title here)?”

Weeding a book for condition is absolutely appropriate. I also want to point out that paperbacks have a much shorter life expectancy than hardcovers. The other, maybe more important issue, is what constitutes a “classic” piece of literature.

When I hear other librarians talk about “classics,” it is usually in some sort of reference to a vague mental list from high school or college, some kind of award winner, or simply because it is old. Just because something has a seat in the Harvard Classics or Western Canon, and other similar lists, doesn’t give a title a free pass to a space on the shelf for eternity. Ultimately, community needs or interest supersede any particular list. Use the classics lists as a guide to discover new authors and titles, not set them on a pedestal.

For probably not the last time: I am not saying the title of Catcher in the Rye is awful. I am saying that this particular mass market paperback, sitting in my recycle pile, is awful.

Mary

PS I have also talked about when to pull the plug on any book. This article two years old, but I think it still applies: Time of Death

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17 comments

  1. Should the need arise, another copy will always turn up, often at a garage sale.
    In college English we were assigned 3 book reports from a list of classics. When at the last due date over half the class chose the easiest one – Catcher in the Rye – the prof said he’d remove it from the list.

    2+
  2. That looks exactly like my copy (condition included).
    Mine continues to “spark joy” for me, not least because of the “erasable” pen marginalia, written by an eleven-year-old with surprisingly little resemblance to myself.

    3+
  3. I was drastically unimpressed with it in high school. (What DID we say instead of “meh”?)

    I care even less now. Meh verging on ew.

    No wonder it’s dissolving if it’s a 60s or 70s vintage paperback!

    @Jennifer: I wonder if they still force high schoolers to read this? Or not read it, as in your professor’s case. Not only was it the easiest, many of the students had probably already read it and maybe written a report on it in high school — doubly easy assignment!

    5+
  4. I had a similar thing happen with a book on anti-semitism that was published in the UK about the end of WWII. It was an especially important book given the time and place of publication and I found it fascinating.

    However, it was an old paperback of wartime publication and in deplorable shape. Every time I turned a page, it fell out. I hated to throw the thing into the trash but there was nothing else I could do.

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  5. If people actually police your weeding, put a spreadsheet on your website and print/tape it to the front door that has columns for “Title”, “Author”, “Call #”, “Date added”, “Date weeded”, “Why”, and “Final result” (Friends’ sale, recycling, destroyed for mold, replaced on [date], …). Cranky people can complain that OMGomg they’re THROWING OUT… 1983 Encyclopedia of Organizations, because someone hollowed it out to hide cafeteria food. Hmm… (eye roll here)

    1+
    1. There is/was a car company is AstraliA called “Holden”, so various persons have inserted into WikipediA the claim that there was a “Holden Caulfield”. Not having read the book, this is all I know of him.

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  6. If your mileage varies greatly, some publisher would no doubt be happy to sell you a durable copy with all the same words in it as this pulp copy.

    1+
  7. I’ve come to defend Catcher in the Rye. For one to say I didn’t connect with it, or I wasn’t quite sure what the author was trying to convey, is one thing (or two, as it were), but to dismiss Salinger with a “meh” seems not only harsh but unfair. Perhaps some of those leaving comments would like the book better if someone would take them aside and explain it to them.

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    1. We understood it fine. It’s a straightforward story. We simply didn’t care for it.

      The book is a lot less popular with women than men, BTW, and with those of modest means rather than the comfortably well-off.

      (Rather a lot of people think Holden should have been institutionalized or at least psychoanalyzed much sooner, but his parents didn’t care enough.)

      4+
  8. I read this book twice and both times I thought the same things –

    1: Salinger is an untalented hack.

    2: Holden is a brat who needed a spanking and to be sent to military school.

    I read it the first time on a family vacation at 10 because there was nothing else around to read. The second time because my english teacher forced us to. I asked her why we had to read such an awful book, mentioned I read it before and my opinions of Holden, she replied “Because every teen can identify with Holden.” My response was “I don’t.” She snapped at me, “Don’t be stupid! Of course you do!”

    No I didn’t and I still think this book is NOT a classic. It’s on par with Twilight.

    5+
  9. Every girl in my English class thought Holden should have been sent to military school where they might beat the whininess out of him. Or at least give the affluenza-afflicted brat an actual good reason to whine. And debated whether mental institutions of the time would help.

    Even the boys thought he was a drama queen (or whatever term we used back then). The only ones who related to him were … the ones everyone hated.

    I imagine Holden’s “rich white boy suffering few consequences for bad behavior while wandering freely and self-indulgently about a huge city” bit doesn’t go over big with PoC or farm kids either.

    2+
    1. When we read it in high school there was just one person in our class of 24 who
      said he liked it and could identify with Holden.
      He was not entirely liked/popular.

      1+
  10. In high school when I finally read the book, my main reaction was “I can see why my super conservative and religious school library took this off the shelf.”

    I also wasn’t that into the story itself. I remember thinking it was “meh.” It was a fun read, but nothing special. I was 16 then. I wonder what I’d think of it now that I’m 31.

    1+

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