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  • August 2012
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Teen Influences: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Hi! My name is Noori, and I am going to be a senior at The Ellis School.  I live near the middle of nowhere, my taste in music is a tad on the eccentric side, I love photography, I’m absolutely obsessed with the 1920’s, I love to read poetry and also really wish that I had the talent actually write some, I love shopping, and I do not have any pets, though I would love to have a cat! I have always loved to read, & I read as many different types of books as possible, although my favorites are mostly classics.  One of my favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, once said, ““That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”, and I could not agree more.  Reading is more than a hobby for me – it is a passion.  It’s endless entertainment, and it is always engaging. 

English wasn’t always my favorite subject.  Honestly, I recall absolutely hating it until 9th grade. At my school, English was never really a grammar based class.  It was always more of a literature class.  I think people eventually come upon something (in my case it was a book) which initially pulls them into a subject. I mean, I did always read a lot, even when I was little, but I did not enjoy reading classic literature.  Honestly, what kid in middle school really does? I think that my love for literature and, in turn, my love for English class can all be brought back to one initial book that lured me in.

The summer before 9th grade, we had to read The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.  For people who have not read it, the novel covers two days in the life of Holden Caulfield, a tall and skinny, anxious and depressed teenager who flunks out of boarding school.  Salinger’s Holden Caulfield is so relatable for teenagers, probably because he is one himself. Like one of my favorite Fitzgerald quotes above states of literature, the novel left me feeling both engaged and connected with the dialogue and characters. As Holden wanders through New York City, utterly lost while still so cocky in his attitude towards others, I saw someone who I could relate to.  Though the average teenager, myself included, does not feel nearly as mentally unstable as Holden probably is, one does feel a bit of reassurance in Holden’s nihilistic attitude.  Clichés present adolescence as a time of “finding oneself” – most teenagers would more likely agree that it is a time of being lost. Arguably, these two things may be the same, but there is a difference in the outlook, a difference in perspective. Being a teenager means feeling sort of lost, and through Holden Caulfield, one realizes that though he/she may feel lost, he/she is not alone.  Reading a book is like taking a trip through someone else’s mind.  Through this, we find similarities and we have the ability to see differences in the ways in which people think.  I think that this makes reading a very vital activity, because through reading, one acquires a better understanding of both him or herself and people in general.  Reading makes us more understanding of people, their emotions, situations, behavior, etc., and, in turn, we become more empathetic.

The Catcher in the Rye led me to a revelation that literature is not always stuffy.  I guess it was a sort of literary awakening!  I realized that literature isn’t just about old dead people doing boring things a long time ago – it is interesting and relevant. Literature does not mean always reading books like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, where everything clearly seems like it occurred a long time ago.  That being said, I’m not saying that either of those two novels is any less credible.  They are just harder to relate to initially – at least they were for me.  The Catcher in the Rye acted as a sort of gateway to more classic literature for me.  After reading this book, I began to enjoy English class.  I loved discussing it, because I felt like I really understood the book’s meaning and its purpose.  In the words of Holden, English class no longer felt “phony” to me – I finally felt like I could have a connection to the books that I read.  Soon after, I began reading more and more, and I began to love all of it.  I graduated from The Catcher in the Rye to books like Lolita, Crime and Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and almost every book that  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway have ever written.  The Catcher in the Rye introduced me into a literature in a way that made all of those books that we hear about, that sound so pretentious, distant, and scary, relatable and real. Now I know that I want to major in English Literature in college, and I owe it to this one book for developing my interest and passion. That begin said, I think that The Catcher in the Rye is a book that everyone should read.  Even if you don’t normally read much and you feel like reading doesn’t really interest you, I strongly recommend giving it a chance! You never know how one relatively small book could impact you.

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