'The Catcher In The Rye': It's Everywhere, Even If You Never Read It Let's talk about the wildly ubiquitous Catcher In The Rye.

'The Catcher In The Rye': It's Everywhere, Even If You Never Read It

My copy of The Catcher In The Rye was maroon, with yellow letters, not like this at all. hide caption

toggle caption

UPDATE: If you'd like to get a sense of Salinger's other work, the good folks at The New Yorker have made that possible: All the stories he wrote for them are available now for free.

The first thing I thought of when I heard that J.D. Salinger had died and I started reading references to The Catcher In The Rye wasn't the book itself. It was this Clem Snide song, "The End Of Love," which is all about the ultimate futility of studied cynicism ("no one will survive the end of love") and includes the lines, "Guess what -- your pain's been done / to perfection by everyone / and the first thing every killer reads is Catcher In The Rye." (You can find a "play" button to hear the song up in the upper right part of that page.)

It's not that The Catcher In The Rye isn't a marvelous book, but as much as it is a marvelous book, it is also a pop-culture symbol so potent and varied that you almost have to start from scratch if you want to get to the bottom of it. Wikipedia has plenty of flaws, but it's pretty great for gathering up references into a single entry, and just check out the list that's called "Cultural References to the novel Catcher In The Rye." (It's sort of sad that they start with "Shootings," but then ... so did my memory, after all.) What will you find?

Annie Hall, Jerry Maguire, Pleasantville, Rushmore, Wedding Crashers, Tropic Thunder. Roseanne, The Simpsons, M*A*S*H, Family Guy, Boy Meets World. Guns 'N' Roses, Billy Joel, Too Much Joy -- and Clem Snide. And that doesn't, of course, count books.

Sometimes the book stands for highbrow reading, sometimes for adolescent alienation, sometimes for great writing, sometimes for writers in isolation, sometimes -- as in "The End Of Love," I think -- for overly fraught symbolism itself. And sometimes it's just the answer to the question, "What's a book everyone will recognize?"

I'm interested in your thoughts, if you'd like to share them, about the book -- have you read it? When did you read it? What did you think of it? Do you, or would you, respond differently as an adult? When you hear it referenced, what do you assume you're hearing, and can referring to it still be fresh?