The Catcher in The Rye
I hadn't read this book since I was fifteen and over-identified with Holden's sensitivity and depression. It was so raw and direct it made me feel physically ill (all that chest-crushing, painful breathing, sickness and fainting) and as though I too were standing on a cliff-edge waiting to be caught. I couldn't believe someone aged sixteen could spend so much on taxis and drink as I knew little about privileged schoolboys in America, but it created an indelible image of a cold, edgy, New York City where you could be beaten up or socially frozen out at any moment. And I loved Holden's love for Phoebe, and now wonder if the book was where I first came across and started to like the name Phoebe (I'd forgotten that her middle name is Josephine which is also Alice's middle name).
This week I bought a new copy with the classic cover in Posman Books and decided that it's definitely a book to read first as a teenager in order to see that you're not the only one, then again as an adult/parent to be reminded that although teenagers are up and down and all over the place, they really do see the world intensely and clearly, and are phenomenally good at detecting phoniness. I'm now better able to appreciate the genius of the writing style, the humour (last time I was too bogged down in being an adolescent to recognise the ironies and contradictions and inadvertent self-revelations), the brilliant digressions and the tear-inducing sadnesses. I found a foretaste of the icy downtown New York of Bob Dylan and the neurotic, uptown New York of Woody Allen, and echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird which also has a central but elusive titular theme that defies any definitive interpretation.
The book held me even more on this reading, now that time has lent some distance and comfort to the view and I wasn't rushing to find out what happens in the end. When I first read it, I hadn't quite realised that Holden is describing what it's like to teeter on the edge of a breakdown - I thought all adolescents spent much of their time feeling this way - and although it's still a painful read, I can now see the glimmers of hope and optimism that just about sustain Holden and catch him in time.
As Holden would say, it really knocks me out.