I wasn’t the best reader in grades K-7. Most years I was invited to a special class in the summer where we cut out pictures of a C-A-T or an H-O-U-S-E from “Ladies Home Journal” and pasted them on construction paper. Between grades 7 and 8 I discovered a box of comics stashed by my brother when he entered the service. Somehow the text and the pictures magically connected, finally leading to my comprehension of what these strung together letters meant. This development excited my parents, who wasted no time in supplying me with wholesome reading materials like benign sports novels for reluctant readers or the innocuous “Dan Carter Cub Scout” series.
One evening, I heard a five-minute radio spot by Dick Clark about a 10-year-old book by J.D. Salinger that all the cool kids were reading. The next day I plopped down two quarters at the local newsstand for a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” the one with the cover picture of the tall skinny kid in the goofy red hunter’s hat in a seedy section of New York City. The first sentence hooked me, as the narrator, Holden Caulfield, explained, profanely at times, how he really didn’t want to get into “all that David Copperfield kind of crap.” He was getting kicked out of his fourth school, one full of phonies and mean guys.
Rather than wait for the semester to end, Holden decided to leave early for Christmas break, get a cheap hotel room and take it easy until the following Wednesday. By then his parents would have had time to digest the news of his latest expulsion. He spent 48 hours wandering the city, avoiding the phony and the mean until he finally sneaks back to his parents’ apartment to visit his young sister, Phoebe, his last connection to his late brother Allie.
He narrowly avoids his parents’ arrival home but returns the next day to say goodbye and to tell Phoebe his plan to hitchhike west as a deaf-mute so he “wouldn’t have to have any goddam stupid conversations with anybody.”
I flew through the book and went back and reread some sections. Maybe that’s why when my mother picked it up, it opened to a passage where Holden is trying to disengage himself from a business proposition with a young woman and her manager, Old Maurice. There was a concerned look on my mother’s face as she read. Sensing my presence, she lowered the book, frowned and said: “This isn’t about baseball!”
In the decade between its publication and when I discovered it, similar terrain had been covered by Brando and Dean, Kerouac, and Elvis, but Salinger was the earliest in chronicling the themes of sorrow, disappointment, alienation and distrust for authority that were to resonate so strongly to a later generation, shaking our cultural and societal norms in the process.
So, sorry Mom, it wasn’t about baseball. But it did ignite a life-long love affair with books and a career as a librarian. Thanks, Holden.
Reviewer Dan Bogey is a retired librarian from Bells Landing. He was director of the Clearfield County Public Library until 2016, and spent over 40 years working in libraries.