The Catcher in the Rye
Extracts from The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.
I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.
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.
He shoved my book back with his hand so that he could see the name of it. ‘Any good?’ he said.
‘This sentence I’m reading is terrific.’
I mean he [Stradlater] was mostly a Year Book kind of handsome guy. I knew a lot of guys at Pencey I thought were a lot handsomer than Stradlater, but they wouldn’t look handsome if you saw their pictures in the Year Book. They’d look like they had big noses or their ears stuck out. I’ve had that experience frequently.
‘You used to play what with her all the time?’
‘Checkers, for Chrissake!’
‘Yeah. She [Jane Gallagher] wouldn’t move any of her kings. What she’d do, when she’d get a king, she wouldn’t move it. She’d just leave it in the back row. She’d get them all lined up in the back row. Then she’d never use them. She just liked the way they looked when they were all in the back row.’
You’d have liked him [Holden’s brother Allie].
You’d like her [Holden’s sister Phoebe].
I think I really like it best when you can kid the pants off a girl when the opportunity arises, but it’s a funny thing. The girls I like best are the ones I never feel much like kidding. Sometimes I think they’d like it if you kidded them—in fact, I know they would —but it’s hard to get started, once you’ve known them a pretty long time and never kidded them.
… she was terrific to hold hands with. Most girls, if you hold hands with them, their goddam hand dies on you, or else they think they have to keep moving their hand all the time, as if they were afraid they’d bore you or something.
One of my troubles is, I never care too much when I lose something— it used to drive my mother crazy when I was a kid. Some guys spend days looking for something they lost. I never seem to have anything that if I lost it I’d care too much.
The thing is, most of the time when you’re coming pretty close to doing it with a girl—a girl that isn’t a prostitute or anything, I mean—she keeps telling you to stop. The trouble with me is, I stop. Most guys don’t. I can’t help it. You never know whether they really want you to stop, or whether they’re just scared as hell, or whether they’re just telling you to stop so that if you do go through with it, the blame’ll be on you, not them.
I’m a sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down.
I like almost anybody in the Bible better than the Disciples. If you want to know the truth, the guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones. I like him ten times as much as the Disciples, that poor bastard.
He [Arthur Childs] kept telling me if I didn’t like the Disciples, then I didn’t like Jesus and all. He said that because Jesus picked the Disciples, you were supposed to like them. I said I knew He picked them, but that He picked them at random.
I remember I asked old Childs if he thought Judas, the one that betrayed Jesus and all, went to Hell after he committed suicide. Childs said certainly. That’s exactly where I disagreed with him. I said I’d bet a thousand bucks that Jesus never sent old Judas to Hell. I still would, too, if I had a thousand bucks. I think any one of the Disciples would’ve sent him to Hell and all—and fast, too—but I’ll bet anything Jesus didn’t do it.
If someone knows quite a lot about those things [the theatre and plays and literature and all that stuff], it takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not. It took me years to find it out, in old Sally’s case. I think I’d have found out a lot sooner if we hadn’t necked so damn much. My big trouble is, I always sort of think whoever I’m necking is a pretty intelligent person. It hasn’t got a goddam thing to do with it, but I keep thinking it anyway.
It isn’t important, I know, but I hate it when somebody has cheap suitcases. It sounds terrible to say it, but I can even get to hate somebody, just looking at them, if they have cheap suitcases with them.
The thing is, it’s really hard to be room-mates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs—if yours are really good ones and theirs aren’t.
Then, after a while, right in the middle of the goddam conversation, he [Louis Gorman] asked me, ‘Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town, by any chance?’ The thing was, you could tell by the way he asked me that he was trying to find out if I was a Catholic. He really was. Not that he was prejudiced or anything, but he just wanted to know. He was enjoying the conversation about tennis and all, but you could tell he would’ve enjoyed it more if I was a Catholic and all.
And if any actor’s really good, you can always tell he knows he’s good, and that spoils it.
She thanked me and all when I had it [a little girl’s skate] tightened for her. She was a very nice, polite little kid. God, I love it when a kid’s nice and polite when you tighten their skate for them or something. Most kids are. They really are. I asked her if she’d care to have a hot chocolate or something with me, but she said no, thank you. She said she had to meet her friend. Kids always have to meet their friend. That kills me.
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 their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’d be different.
So I don’t know about bores. Maybe you shouldn’t feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them. They don’t hurt anybody most of them, and maybe they’re secretly all terrific whistlers or something.
All that crap they have in cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post and all, showing guys on street corners looking sore as hell because their dates are late—that’s bunk. If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late?
‘You ought to go to a boys' school sometime. Try it sometime,’ I said. ‘It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses, and all you do is talk about girls and liquor and sex all day, and everybody sticks together in these dirty little goddam clicks….’
‘Now, listen,’ old Sally said. ‘Lots of boys get more out of school than that.’
‘I agree! I agree they do, some of them! But that’s all I get out of it. See? That’s my point. That’s exactly my goddam point,’ I said.
Then, after the Rockettes, a guy came out in a tuxedo and roller-skates on, and started skating under a bunch of little tables, and telling jokes while he did it. He was a very good skater and all, but I couldn’t enjoy it much because I kept picturing him practising to be a guy that roller-skates on the stage. It seemed so stupid.
He [Holden’s brother D.B.] made Allie go get his baseball mitt and then he asked him who was the best war poet, Rupert Brooke or Emily Dickinson. Allie said Emily Dickinson.
‘Lawyers are all right, I guess—but it doesn’t appeal to me … Even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phoney? The trouble is, you wouldn’t.’
A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September. It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.