Today marks the 95th anniversary of J.D. Salinger's birth. The famously reclusive author, known for penning The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey, has been in the spotlight more than he probably would have liked this year, due to the release of a biography and film outlining his life and impact, and the "leaking" of three of his previously unpublished stories.
In the midst of the hubbub, we'd like to revisit why, exactly, we cherish the memory of Salinger. Though his most famous work, The Catcher in the Rye, is often shrugged off as relatable only to angsty, insufferable teens, it's withstood the test of time. Sure, it's the "Great American High School Novel," but adults repeatedly fixate on it. In fact, when the HuffPost Books team collectively re-read it, we didn't feel that we were reliving an experience akin to awkward slow-dancing and first kisses. We felt that were reading something relevant and important.
Here are five things The Catcher in the Rye can teach you about life, even if your prom-going days are far behind you.
1. You're not alone in your frustrations.
Holden spends the bulk of the book complaining. It's endearing at times, sad at others, but on the whole it makes him somewhat of an irritating character. Still, his frustrations with the disingenuousness of others, and especially his grievances about dating and lost love, can help readers to understand that they aren't the only one coping with problems, big or petty.
Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles.
2. Social niceties aren't always phony.
Holden's catchphrase, and go-to response for almost any situation, be it dating or going to the movies or generally just walking around, is to deem the people he's interacting with as "phony." Readers give him flak for this. But he's also aware that he, too, feels as though he must act in accordance with social norms - that they exist for a reason. He doesn't have the best attitude about niceties, but he acknowledges that, at times, they can be important.
I am always saying "Glad to've met you" to somebody I'm not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.
3. Excellent writing can transport you.
Holden is a big reader. He describes himself as "not all that literate," in spite of reading a lot. He reads for pleasure, and he describes the pleasure he takes in reading at length in the book. Movies, on the other hand, are a medium he classifies as "phony." Still, his devouring of books is admirable.
What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.
4. Growing up means channeling your frustrations towards something productive.
When Holden visits Mr. Antolini, he's given advice from a worried man who understands what formal education doesn't. Mr. Antolini says he has a feeling that Holden is "riding for some kind of a terrible, terrible fall." Instead of allowing his frustrations to dictate his life, Mr. Antolini suggests that Holden should learn more about others who have experienced similar frustrations. He borrows this quote from Wilhelm Stekel:
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.
5. Beauty is rare, and worth holding onto.
Though Holden often is unhappy with his interactions with others, he does cherish the company of his chosen mentors, his close friends, and his family, especially his younger sister. He also values books and museums, and other means of preserving special or important moments.
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still 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 antlers and they're pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody's be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.
[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that it was J.D. Salinger's 105th anniversary.]
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