Sometimes the best books are the ones you just grab off the shelves just because you feel like it.
On Friday I was shelving books in the library where I work, and I had this beat up copy of The Catcher in the Rye in my hands and I just thought to myself– why not? This is one of those books that I’ve never read that I should have read by now (I’m looking at all y’all: Moby Dick, The Sun Also Rises, and The Red Badge of Courage). So, I picked it up with apprehension. On the one hand, The Catcher in the Rye has John Green’s seal of approval. On the other hand, I was really sure I was going to have to drag myself through this novel hating every minute of it (ahem, akin to my experience with The Great Gatsby). But this copy was an old, well-loved, 1951 edition, and, in the end, it was the physical heft of the book that made me take it home.
This has been such a pleasant surprise. The Catcher in the Rye is fantastic. I love it. If I was a good reviewer like Jessica, I’d review it. Even though it’s a classic. Instead, I’m gonna just quote one of my favorite parts, about the Museum of Natural History. This is a long quote, but I promise that it’s worth it.
“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving the same blanked. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way — I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”
This is poetry. This makes me understand why professors get all bent out of shape when someone says that poetry and prose are opposites. I love the way that this pivots, how you get all the detail about the Museum of Natural History and then it gives you the list of possible changes in a series of “or”s. Stasis followed by flux. And the images!! I don’t know. I just love it.
The Catcher in the Rye has also made me sad in a way– this is a novel for a younger person. This is a novel I should have read 5 years ago. I feel like the teenager who picks up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about because they missed it as a kid. I mean, I obviously still love it, but I think that if I’d read this a few years ago it would have been more powerful in my life. Maybe I’d be a prose person instead of a poetry one. Oh my god, maybe I’d be writing a thesis on Virginia Wolfe (like everyone else in my program, it seems like) instead of on Yeats and Stevens. So, as a newly minted grown-up (hah, it feels like a joke as I type it out), I love this book, but I wish that I’d found it earlier.
It’s the exact opposite of my experience reading Anna Karenina at 15. 15 is too young to read Tolstoy. Let me just put that out there right now. And I fully support 8 year olds reading books marked as college reading level and beyond, it’s not that. Tolstoy is just so… dogmatic and subtle. Maybe it was just the type of teenager I was, but I hated that book. I literally did not finish it, and I never do this. I am a book conqueror, people. I want to go back to it and see what I can get out of it now, but I am afraid that it will defeat me again. Or that I’ll still detest it.My mom had a similar experience with Moby Dick, she read it last year and loved it after reading it in High School and hating it.
Are there any books that you tried to read too young or ended up reading too late? Are there certain books for certain parts of your life? If so, is there a list compiled somewhere that I can follow?!