Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caulfield’s Voice Resonates

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Holden Caulfield’s voice as the protagonist in Catcher in the Rye is the masterful creation of J.D. Salinger, a man who often wanted to be left alone.

The words of the 17-year-old New Yorker take readers on a journey that feels so real we can all get lost in his world. Having flunked out of a boarding school for boys, Holden is isolated by depression, a distrust of shallow people, and vulgar language. He is more sensitive than he admits, still mourns the death of his brother Allie, and adores his younger sister Phoebe. He has not found a fit in four private schools.

The book’s first sentence sets the tone for Holden Caulfield’s story:

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Salinger’s most famous book, set in the 1950s, was written for adults, but it remains a favorite of youth, selling hundreds of thousands of copies a year. Its popular use in high schools has gotten teachers in trouble for its themes of morality, violence, sex, underage drinking, mental health.

Most of us had a Holden Caulfield in us. Ferris Bueller did. Many of us still do.

Five decades after I first read Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield’s words make me laugh, make me sad, make me want to tell him to be kinder to himself. And, sometimes, to others.

I can still learn a thing or two from Holden Caulfield–and I’m not just saying that.

 

Siddhartha: A Search for Fulfillment

Siddhartha is a handsome young Brahman who is wealthy, exceptionally intelligent, and loved. He seems to have it all, but he feels unfulfilled.

With his loving friend Govinda, he leaves his family and the comforts of home in search of enlightenment. He meets Gautama, but even life with the original Buddha is not enough, so he moves on, leaving Govinda behind. He fasts, lives without possessions, eventually slips back into materialism and a life with a beautiful woman.

As an old man living alone and working as a ferryman at a river, he reconnects with Govinda in a poignant meeting. Is Siddhartha, alas, fulfilled?

Siddhartha is German author’s Hermann Hesse’s most famous book. Hesse, who died in 1962 at 85, so beautifully describes Siddhartha’s journey that many readers return to the book. The conversations with people he meets are compelling and the narrative, originally written in German, is deeply human.

Each time I read Siddhartha, I find myself reading passages over and over. It resonated with me as a youth in the 1960s and it touches me as a man now in my late 60s. Messages of hope and beauty emerge from the book’s shadows.

Siddhartha mirrors aspects of Hesse’s own life of discontent. The author suffered depression as a child, attended a seminary, where he rebelled and fled. He attempted suicide at 15.

I devoured all of Hesse’s novels while I was in college in the early 1970s. Siddhartha was my favorite, but I was also drawn to Narcissus and Goldmund and Peter Camenzind. Click on the book cover above to go to Amazon.

Is there a Siddhartha in all of us?

Seneca Says: Get on With Your Life!

“Life is short.”

Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life is likely to transform your thoughts about those three words.

The Roman stoic philosopher’s vision of human existence viewed life as plenty long enough, if you use it.

“Just do it! What are you waiting for?” he would say if he were writing a self-help book in the 21st Century. Time is your ally if you don’t put things off.

Here are a few from a wealth of jewels from the English translation available on Amazon:

“Let us turn to private possessions, the greatest source of human misery. For if you compare all the other things from which we suffer, deaths, illnesses, fears, desires, endurance of pains and toils, with the evils which money brings us, the latter will far outweigh the others.”

“…it is easier to bear and simpler not to acquire than to lose, so you will notice that those people are more cheerful whom Fortune has never favoured than those whom she has deserted.”

“So we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance: it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it.”

“Fortune hands out such unfair rewards.”

“…there is a healthy moderation in wine, as in liberty.”

Seneca, an advisor to Nero, accumulated great wealth and was a controversial figure two thousand years ago. His words may make you wonder about the originality of current self-help writing.

Tiny Book Holds Message of Hope

Do you have a favorite book that you read again and again?

The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, is a tiny book that packs a powerful message. Like walking a long-distance trek, it reminds me what is important and helps chase anxiety away.

My mantra mirrors Ruiz’ words of wisdom. This is what I repeat:

“Speak impeccably. Don’t take things personally. Never assume. Always do your best.”

In a nut shell, those are the four agreements. I have just read the book again, reading some passages over and over as I go. As usual, I have found peace in Ruiz’ message.

I would love to hear how the book affects you. Also, please share if there is a book you read again and again.