Salinger’s Cult Phenomenon Turns 60

It’s 60 years since The Catcher in the Rye was published. Brigid Delaney, journalist and columnist, reflects on what the book means for her.

I was 11 or 12. It was my mother’s book club novel and had been borrowed from the library. Its plain, silver cover, with the title of the book in plain black font, was not immediately appealing. I don’t know why I opened it – but once I did, and read that first sentence that seemed to be written only for me, my life changed.

The book was Catcher in the Rye – and the first sentence was: “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 before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap.”

Excuse me if I borrow a corny line from a Tom Cruise movie – but Salinger had me from ‘Hello’.

With this book, I left the circuses, Faraway Trees, Mallory Towers and the Famous Five of my Enid Blyton world behind. Reading Salinger wasn’t just a leap in terms of reading matter – it was something more profound; in the course of reading this book, I shifted – mentally and emotionally – from childhood to adolescence.

Never had I felt so strongly pulled into an imaginative world. I read the book by torchlight, I read it at the dinner table, I read it as soon as I woke up, I read it when I should have been conjugating French verbs, I read it instead of lurking around the Warrnambool football oval with other malcontents my own age. I read it with the thrill of both recognition and wonder - and when the book was finished, I flipped back to that first page inside that silver colour and started reading again.

I have read The Catcher in the Rye fifty or more times. Among the book’s many fans is its fair share of infamous fanatics. What we maybe have in common is that each of us felt on first reading that is the book was speaking only to us, that Holden Caulfield was our secret-sharer, that he was the outsider who gave us permission somehow to be an outsider too.

The novel made me want to be a writer but more importantly it made me want to be a reader. The Catcher in the Rye whetted my appetite for more, more, more like no other book ever has. Happy birthday, Holden.

As a teenager, Brigid Delaney changed her middle name by deed poll from Mary to Weatherfield. That name, of course, being the middle name of Holden Caulfield’s sister Phoebe. Brigid is the media contact for the Mercy Campaign, a website seeking clemency for Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Related posts