The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger (1946)

Did you hear what I said? Well, huh, thanks for nothing.

I said, I’ve been staring myself out about what makes this book so fab.

Everyone goes on about the teenage angst ta-ra-ra and the awkwardness boom-de-ay and how Salinger nailed it.

He sure did, but what’s the magic potion?

It’s tone of voice, dumb-ass. Are you listening or not?

The oft-quoted first sentence and the ongoing ‘hero’ Holden’s perfectly pitched mosquito machine hum of woe and whinge have you often wanting to biff the bugger. But, damn it, he’s funny too.

Here’s the opener. (Tip: no peeking first, just read the next para aloud in one breath to get in the tone zone.)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Plonker. Actually, we all got off on that opener at school. It was so daring and, wow, it said crap and, and, and, that David Copperfield was crap. It made us shiver with excitement.

As any wise-ass knows, ripples of frisson spread outwards. Tell me Paul Simon hadn’t read Catcher when he first sang Kodachrome: When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.

Actually, he couldn’t think at all because he was only thinking, If you took all the girls I knew when I was single and brought them all together for one night. Yes, I can see how that would be a bit distracting. For me? Hara-kiri.

And it’s girls that make a happy segue to Holden’s hard-ons. To him, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing.

I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while [all the time] even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something [anything will do].

Now, this is the perfect point to pause and gently touch the centre pole of the Big Top that is adolescence.

Listening. And that includes not-being-listened to. Got that? Now Holden that thought.

The ancient phrase Catcher in the Rye alludes to a horny shepherd boy crossing the river Rye to slap tummies with a milkmaid on the other bank. Or something like that. Anyway, it’s a safari, as most stories are.

Holden’s journey – remember, that’s the one that he says we don’t want to hear about because it’s so boring and he can’t be bothered anyway – includes some cheese-alert life lessons along the way. You know, the usual shit that happens when you’re growing up.

Start a fight. Lose the fight. Try to get laid. Get ripped off instead. And so on.

So just before you want to start to stop listening to me droning on, let’s hear it from Holden himself. On girls (more? yeah, he’s a teenage boy, for Chrissake), pimples, money and morons.

They’re crazy

That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.

Ha-ha. Welcome to the nut house, mate.

Boys are gross…

What a school. You were always watching somebody cut their damn toenails or squeeze their pimples or something.

Lol, yeah. Don’t they just love picking, prodding, peeling, poking, prying and then usually eating it.


Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.

Yep. That’s why we have so many names for it, honey.

You tell ’em…

He hated it when you called him a moron. All morons hate it when you call them a moron.

He-he. You end up liking this guy. And you like him even more when you clock the affection and protection he has for his little sister, Phoebe. Unleash what you’ve been Holden on to now.

Old Phoebe didn’t say anything, but she was listening. I could tell by the back of her neck that she was listening. She always listens when you tell her something. And the funny part is she knows, half the time, what the hell you’re talking about. She really does… I mean she’s only a little child and all. If somebody at least listens, it’s not too bad.

There you go.

And if all the above ain’t a lesson in tone of voice, I’m a banana.

Thanks for listening.

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Guy Nicholls

Freelance copywriter – writing compelling copy to sell, explain or entertain.

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