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Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut, J.D. Salinger, and Shearwater’s Rook

January 31, 2010

I wanted to write something the other day when I found out that J.D. Salinger passed away.  I was able to squeeze out a few words via Twitter and Facebook, but I didn’t really scratch the surface of what I wanted to say.

Catcher in the Rye is a very dividing book.  Most people worship it, other don’t understands its appeal and deem it overrated.  I fall into the former category, but not for the reason most others connect with it.   I won’t lie…I did not read shit in high school.  I skipped every book they ever made us read in English class (yet never failed a test.  Oh, our educational system) opting instead to spur on class discussion to reveal all the major details I would later need.  Catcher in the Rye was no exception.  Alienated teen, I get.  I wasn’t totally alienated as a youth, but who’s never alienated at all?  That’s why everyone connects with it at that age, I suppose.

Years go by in my life.  I go away to college for one year where I do far too many drugs and never, ever attend class.  I return home, leaving drugs behind in exchange for becoming an alcoholic, I made it to Europe for three months, and then went clean and sober, using my 21st birthday as a last celebration before I started training for a marathon and a new and better life.  And I found something else out shortly after my 21st birthday.  One night I was taking a walk with my good friend Sasha Picado and her large dog when she asked me if I read.   I bulked up the truth and tried to lie about how avid a reader I was.  Sasha saw right through it and said “You know a shit load about movies and a shit load about music.  You need to get into books”.  So, the next day she took me to Borders and bought me a few books.  I upped the ante and spent some of my own money as well, considering this was a rare time that I would actually have some.  Together, we bought me Atlas Shrugged, On the Road, Glue by Irvine Welsh, Brave New World, and a few others that slip my mind.

I’ve been an avid reader slash sometime complete obsessive ever since.  One of the first ten books that I decided to read was my old unused copy of Catcher in the Rye.  I dove in.  I loved the tone and feel, and I found that being older than him, I could sympathize with Holden Caulfield having survived that time in my life.  I think that was part of the reason I didn’t like the book in the first place.

I should pause here to point out that I did try reading these books (and okay, okay, okay, I actually finished To Kill a Mockingbird as a Freshman and I knew Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by heart as well as The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim long before Sasha took me to Borders) but they couldn’t hold my interest.  Keep in mind I hit puberty in 1992 at the height of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs a mainstay in our family VHS player.  I’d still argue that it’s more important for a 12 year old boy to have heard that album and seen that movie as opposed to having read A Separate Peace or Where the Red Fern Grows.  Art is a seduction and only the lucky ones get pulled in by the most challenging aspects of it early.  For me, it went from music, to movie, and then to literature.  I don’t think I could have gone at it any other way.  Music is easily the most approachable artistic form.  Everyone has hummed a tune before.  Next, would be movies or film because ever if you don’t understand what is going on, all you have to do is sacrifice two hours and your eyes.  Books take more effort.  Books take more imagination, for the most part…I’m looking at you Stephanie Meyer.

On to J.D.

Catcher in the Rye isn’t about the tone, plot, characters, or story.  It’s about one epiphany for Holden Caulfield.  One total realization, akin to the moment in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground when its unnamed narrator exclaims “I can’t be good! They won’t let me!” relatively out of nowhere.  The moment comes when Holden visits his sister and tells her the only thing he could ever see himself being happy with his standing in the field of rye, catching children from falling off the cliff.  Man, that’s it.  That’s what that books is about.  Touching our impossible happiness.  At least he knew what his is and that’s what makes the book so important to me.  Holden was getting older, closer to becoming what he deemed a phony every day without even knowing it.  Yet, his remaining innocence allowed him to see past convention and into a world that could never exist.  If he had been fully grown, his answer would have no impact for it would have been something rooted in reality.  Holden Caulfield’s  pain and alienation comes from leaving youth forever.  A pain will all know one day.

I don’t hang on to any part of Holden Caulfield but that one.  He is as flawed of a character that was ever written, but there is truth in his worry.  While he might not be able to accurately put his finger on what upsets him so deeply, he is smart enough to know that something is there disturbing him.

There is magic there in that paragraph in Catcher in the Rye.  I used to have a library of over 1000 books, yet I only have a few things highlighted.  That paragraph is one of them.  Pure magic.  A rarity even through art.

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