When I was 23 years old (back when Mark and I were “just friends” and not yet dating), I admitted a horrifying truth. I had never seen Star Wars. Once he picked himself up off the floor, Mark insisted we remedy the situation at once. Later that evening he arrived at my apartment, accompanied by his Star Wars-obsessed friends and brandishing an old VHS copy of the movie. With a bowl of popcorn and an open mind, I sat down to watch. The result… I was underwhelmed. The movie seemed kind of cheesy. The special effects were just ok, and the acting was downright awful at times. Obviously something important was lost on me. Turning to Mark I asked: “How many times have you seen this movie?”
I’m a huge science fiction fan. I love Star Trek: Next Generation, X-Files, and Fringe. My two favorite movies from the 1980’s were Aliens and The Terminator. But somehow I missed the boat with Star Wars. Mark saw the movie when he was seven years old…it was all magic and wonder and good vs. evil. Almost 40 years later, our son was the same age when he first saw Star Wars—his reaction equally fervent. As a 23-year-old, maybe I was just too old to experience the movie in the same way.
The same thing happened to me when I tried to read The Catcher in the Rye. This time I was 30. Seeing my now-husband’s aghast reaction (How deprived was your youth?!?) I picked up the book, which he was teaching to his high school students, and gave it a try. Again… I just didn’t get it. I appreciated the book for its literary merits, but perhaps I was too far removed from the teenage experience of alienation and angst to be truly moved by the story.
In a New York Times article (published January 28, 2010), Michiko Kakutani wrote: “Mr. Salinger had such unerring radar for the feelings of teenage angst and vulnerability and anger that “Catcher,” published in 1951, remains one of the books that adolescents first fall in love with — a book that intimately articulates what it is to be young and sensitive and precociously existential, a book that first awakens them to the possibilities of literature.”
I’ve definitely had that feeling before… when you read a story and you’re convinced the author crept into your consciousness and accessed your most private thoughts. How else could he or she so perfectly capture your experience? I think that’s what The Catcher in the Rye might be for many teenagers who read it. How else could it have endured for over 60 years? Unfortunately for me, there’s a window of time in which it must be read… and I was definitely outside that window.