When I was 13, my mum gave me a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. It took me a long time to read it. During that transition between children’s books and adult, I was still secretly reading The Babysitter’s Club, while ostentatiously carrying Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis around with me (I know). My genuine favourites at that time were the early works of Jilly Cooper and everything by John Wyndham.
It took me a long time to embark on Salinger. I would look at its plain silver cover and feel weirdly overwhelmed, even though it’s a thin book. I can’t remember why. My mum had great taste – she was always introducing me to great things. For some reason, I couldn’t see why she wanted me to read this one.
When I finally did, it is no exaggeration to say my life changed. I fell in love with Holden Caulfield. So much so that I pretended in my head that he was real and he was my boyfriend. I was obsessed. The relationship between Holden and his sister made me cry. Everything he said resonated with me so strongly.
It’s one of those books, along with The Outsiders and The Bell Jar, that I read at exactly the right time. So it has stayed with me forever. There are some books you must read when you’re at the height of the reminiscence bump. My memories of sitting in my bedroom reading Salinger and listening to Nirvana on cassette sum up not only my teenage years but everything that was to come afterwards.
I bought a copy of The Catcher in the Rye for my first serious boyfriend for his birthday. I gave it to him with great ceremony, saying that he must read it in order to truly understand me. Happy birthday! (In my defence, I was only 23 and very self-important.)
I was devastated when he said he ‘didn’t get it’. He didn’t want to read about a whiny posh teenager. Since then, I’ve met a lot of people who’ve said the same thing. The Catcher in the Rye is a book that you must read at the right time. It’s not one to read because a girl in a lot of eyeliner and a vintage dress has bought it for you for your twenty-eighth birthday.
However, if you do happen to read it at the right time, then it will never leave you. If anything, I relate to that book more now than I did then. I mean, I don’t reread it and fantasise about going ice-skating with Holden the way I used to (promise). I haven’t actually read it in years. Maybe I don’t need to, as I could pretty much recite it from memory. I do reread the Glass family short stories and I still love them. (If you haven’t, they’re underrated.)
I might have loved that book when I was 13, but I didn’t understand it. It was only when I was older I realised it was a book about grief. Even though it tells you explicitly in the last passage, I didn’t realise it was not a book about standard teenage angst but a book about loss. It’s a book about missing people.
The older I get, the more I think that life becomes more and more about missing people. I’m writing a new (experimental) thing at the moment. It’s a self-indulgent project, different to anything else I have ever written. I’m not sure what, if anything, will come of it.
While trying to wade through the words and edit it down into something more ‘proper’, I asked myself what it was really all about. It’s about a whole lot of feelings, anecdotes, family, friends, history and stories. But what it really is, is a book about missing people.
I seem to be racking them up. It’s still happening. I don’t know what to do about it, other than accept that it’s a part of adult life and try to see the good in it.
Which means that I disagree with my beautiful teenage boyfriend Holden, but I also totally understand what he means.
‘Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.’