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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Literary Lessons: #CatcherInTheRye

A very common favorite book is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Although I don’t think that taste is something one can objectively judge when it comes to the art of literature or music, I still make snide internal remarks when someone tells me Salinger’s acclaimed masterpiece was the book they keep closest to their hearts.

I acknowledge that there are many interpretations of this book, one of which is a young man struggling with depression. If that’s you, don’t ever let anyone hate on you for loving this book. You do you booboo.

However, you may be familiar with that one guy who’s always talking about how everyone is fake, and is constantly complaining about the minutia of his pretty nice life. He’s in that group of people that say Catcher is their favorite book, but for less admirable and more superficial reasons. For those readers, I ascertain two crucial facts about them: 1. They are privileged. 2. They like to whine.

Salinger is an incredible writer and he can really tell the story of an unmotivated, affluent white kid struggling with a normal existential teenage crisis in a way that makes it sounds less, well, stupid. Basically, a climactic dilemma in the book is, “I don’t want to tell my parents I got kicked out of school, so instead of spending the night in our fancy New York City apartment, I’m going to spend a couple hours on a park bench.” To make matters worse, this moment of monumental difficulty then makes no reference to all the people who sleep on park benches regularly, or how his privilege has affected his understanding of the cold, etc.

The next time something not quite awful happens to you, but you want to make an internet hyperbole about it, in lieu of #firstworldproblems, just follow it with #catcherintherye. That way, not only will your enigmatic blanket statement get the usual slews of “What happened?” and “OMG are you okay?” but people will also think you are smart and maybe judge you less when you never clarify why you’re feeling so terrible … even though you wanted everyone to know in the first place.

Examples of this include, “Everything is melting around me” when your dishwasher malfunctions, and “I just don’t understand life anymore” when your cat pees on the carpet. Just like Salinger was within his right to soliloquize about the intense struggle of being extremely wealthy, you are within your right to sulk about a B+ and then write about it on the internet.

I must give a certain amount of credit to Catcher, in that it is very germane to the lives of many college students, most of whom are in the group that reference the book as their fave read. Although there exist plenty of people on campus who have had seriously tough lives, there also exists a sizable group whose biggest day-to-day problems include not getting their mustaches to curl up well enough at the ends, or getting their Uggs dirty. For those people, Salinger is like a god who can project their struggle with prosperity in a melancholic novel filled with exaggerated woe.

I heard someone once say that “just because something more terrible happened to someone else, does not mean you cannot feel sad about the bad things that happen to you.” I wholeheartedly agree with this — sometimes it’s completely legitimate to get caught up with the small, shitty things in life (especially, as previously mentioned, if due to extraneous circumstances like depression). All I’m trying to say is that I expect a little more from someone’s favorite book than a dramatic account of a week in the life of a privileged young man.

So to bourgeois guys whingeing about fake people: step back, contextualize your problems. I ended up being assigned Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart right in the middle of reading Catcher In the Rye. That’s heavy.

These days, it’s midterm season, and I’m sure that there will be plenty of dramatic posts about the fragility of our existence and the pointlessness of this thing we call academia. “Why even bother?” some may ask their plethora of Facebook friends … and then never follow up on the answer.

You can help these lost souls and maybe quote some Salinger (because it’s true that, as much as we think our time at UC Davis might sometimes be a waste, learning teaches us about our own minds, and that is never a futile effort): “If you go along with it any considerable distance, [an academic education will] begin to give you an idea what [kind of] mind you have.”

Or, you could troll them. I recommend a solid troll by commenting #catcherintherye.


To come up with hashtags with EREN KAVVAS, you should email her at ebkavvas@ucdavis.edu.



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