The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
A re-read, obviously. In fact I once wrote an undergraduate linguistics essay on the very first page, so I knew I wasn’t going to get “all that David Copperfield kind of crap”, but instead one of the greatest character portraits ever created.
Holden Caulfield perfectly captures the adolescent mindset in which trivialities are a matter of urgency and important things are almost, but not quite, suppressed. His voice constantly churns out phrases like “if you really want to know” and “to tell you the truth”, whilst the real cause of his angst reveals itself only in asides.
In terms of language and character it’s a goddam masterpiece, if you really want to know.
The end of the book made me cry, but it’s also extremely funny. I particularly enjoyed a long riff about girls marrying boring guys, which segues into a description of a boring room-mate who Holden tolerates because of his exceptional ability in whistling jazz tunes. It concludes:
Naturally, I never told him I thought he was a terrific whistler. I mean you don’t just go up to somebody and say, “You’re a terrific whistler.” But I roomed with him for about two whole months, even though he bored me till I was half crazy, just because he was such a terrific whistler, the best I ever heard. 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. Who the hell knows? Not me.