not my copy
Currently reading: Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
Recently finished reading: Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman; Brooklyn Was Mine by Chris Knutsen and Valerie Steiker (Editors)
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When I graduated high school I could count the books I had read for pleasure on both my hands. Maybe even on one hand. It just wasn’t my gig, reading. I hadn’t yet discovered its full potential. I didn’t know that ideas and perspectives and experiences that other people shared in books could profoundly affect my own ideas and perspectives and experiences.
My dad had given me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – the classic burgundy paperback edition w/ the gold writing – when I was fourteen. He said it would change my life and that I should read it right away. I didn’t believe him when he said it would change my life, and I didn’t read it right away. I had unknowingly, despite my adolescent omnipotence, delayed my life changing experience.
Four years later, on my first day of college, I was mired in a long, winding, slow-moving line outside the University Center, waiting to get my financial aid. I realized that I was going to be there a while with few entertainment outlets. I pulled out the burgundy copy of that so highly recommended book, and began reading. Now the answer to my dad’s ad nauseam could finally be, Yes, I’ve read the god damn book!
By the time I got to the front of the line, I had read two-thirds of it. I read the rest when I got home. Holy shit! Dad was right. I knew right away that this book had changed my life forever. I understood my dad so much more clearly now, and I had just enough of a speck of maturity to understand why he so desperately wanted me to read it.
The world and many of its inexplicable complexities now made sense. The things I thought were cool before were now not cool. The things that I had never recognized about people, and what they thought and how they behaved, had become clear and obvious. My perspective had been instantly shaped by Holden Caulfield’s, as had, I now saw, my dad’s.
It didn’t matter that I had read the book four or five years later than most kids read it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any kids that went to private school. It didn’t matter that I had never been to all the places in New York that Holden went to on his adventures. It didn’t matter that this was a work of fiction. It didn’t matter that Holden’s life was different than mine. None of that mattered because I was able to relate to his experiences and his ways of thinking and his quirks and idiosyncrasies because, really, they were universal.
By the time I was 22, a senior in college, I had read The Catcher in the Rye several times. I even kept that burgundy copy by my bedside, and I would flip through it every once in a while. The number of books I had read for pleasure had increased since my first reading, but not significantly; perhaps now I could count them all on my fingers and toes. Keeping a book at my bedside – like others might keep a prized piece of jewelry or a favorite picture – was an action that fell outside the realm of my expected behavior at that time in my life.
I still have that original copy my dad gave me. It has survived a lot over the years, including a mauling at the hands (paws) and sharp teeth of my roommate’s puppy, rendering it unreadable.
The book now makes its home inside an urn originally used to hold my dad’s ashes. The ashes, floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, are no longer in the urn, but keeping Holden company inside the hand-crafted rectangular wooden box are several other items related to my dad: his death certificate, social security card, and passport; a gold money clip w/ his old partner‘s initials engraved on it; a small bronze Buddha figurine; the program from his funeral service; some stencils of his name from the Circle of Friends; and a handwritten note accompanying a few photographs of me in college (around the time when the book was mauled by the puppy) taken w/ his favored fish-eyed lens.
Now, over twenty years since my first introduction to Holden, his impact on my daily living is not as immediate. I have grown and matured in multitudes of other directions, and have been influenced by hundreds of other authors and fictional characters, many who have contrasting or even directly opposing views to Holden’s.
My dad is no longer here, but his memory never goes away. Holden never really goes away either, once you’ve had the pleasure of meeting him. My dad and Holden both pop up and say hello regularly, and I always welcome their conversation. They guide me often, providing purpose and direction where purpose and direction are not always easily findable.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from my old man, and from that teenage kid from New York. Many of those lessons I’ve applied. Many I’ve ignored, like “Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do you start missing everybody.”