June’s book: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This month’s theme is “I’ve always meant to read…”


The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time’s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read.

The other choices for this month were:

  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • The Group by Mary McCarthy
  • Little Big Man by Thomas Berger
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

May’s meeting

A wet and windy Le Lacustre greeted us for May’s book club. This month, our theme was “a book I couldn’t put down” and White Teeth by Zadie Smith was chosen.

This book divided the group. Scores ranged from 9 – with people finding the novel well observed with rich characters – to 1 (yes, my score. The only word I could find to describe the book was awful). On average, the book scored a rather lowly 5.8.However, the disparity in opinions meant that there was a LOT for everyone to talk about.

However, this disparity meant that there was a LOT for everyone to talk about. And talk we did.

The group were very open with their views on the book. Some felt that the characters were made to come alive, others were disappointed with the lack of character development. Some didn’t see any clear plot with the contrary opinion being that the circular nature of the book was a commentary on the fact that history keeps repeating itself. The majority agreed that the book wasn’t very addictive – it was slow to start and the end was “annoying”. It was also agreed that, for a young debut, it was a vast commentary for the author to tackle.

The discussion started with expositions on the title. Why White Teeth? Was it a nod to the story of soldiers looking out for white teeth in the dark? Was it something to do with identity (especially around Clara)? Was it because that, despite their differences, all the characters had white teeth? One member suggested, quite poetically, that white teeth is what people see on the outside but, underneath, there may be more.

Conversation quickly turned to Irie (who seemed to be the one character that most people actually liked). Her job choices, pregnancy, and desire to escape were all covered. Was she the only one who broke the repetitive cycle? Did she create her own identity with a new future?

The group grappled with religion, race, the role of women, and science.

We discussed the differing roles of Neena and Alsana. Why were the two linked in the novel? Were they there to show the extremes of an immigrant’s life – one spurning tradition and revelling in freedom, and the other content to develop a family steeped in tradition and history.

We wondered whether Joyce represented modernity. She was the archtypical middle class neurotic confined to a marriage with very little passion. Joyce and Marcus embodied one of the main themes of the novel. Joyce was trying to change the world through nuturing people, Marcus was trying to change it by changing nature (and mice, it seems)

Talking about mice, the scientists in the group had a small issue with Marcus’ methodology and sample sizes. SuperMouse may well be super but he’s not a statistically viable.

Most of the group felt the ending was a little rushed – as if Zadie Smith’s agent had told her she had to finish the book the next day. However, the ending relinked the start of book and encouraged people to go back to the beginning and read it knowing the final pages. It’s also the only time in the novel where Archie takes a position on anything. Finally.

Conversations then got a little too deep for me to take notes about (race, culture, whether the two are linked etc) so I didn’t. I drank wine instead.

A plus, bookclubbers!


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