Another Page: ‘Catcher in the Rye’

J. Gregory Smith

By J. Gregory Smith

This past Father’s Day had me thinking about and missing my Dad, who passed away five years ago.  I remember one of his early jobs in journalism.  He was one of very few reporters granted an interview with the reclusive J.D. Salinger.

Given that honor, you might think I would have had an added interest in reading Salinger’s work.  You’d be mistaken, at least back when I was in high school in the early eighties.  Back then, my priorities were avoiding work along with consequences of the mischief I caused to fill what should have been productive time.

Case in point: a fine Sunday that followed an entertaining Saturday unmarred by a trace of academia, including reading  The Catcher in the Rye, due in its entirety the next day.

Not a problem.  I had a plan.

Back in those days, we couldn’t Google the book and get the finer literary points at the click of a mouse.  No, we had to get off our butts and earn our shortcuts.

Off to the local bookstore, I perused the racks of the slacker’s best friend.  I didn’t see the condensed tribute to J.D.’s masterpiece.  Undaunted, I went the extra mile and marched to the front desk.

“Do you have the Cliff’s Notes for The Catcher in the Rye?”  I had cash in hand.

“Why?  It’s a great book.  You should read it.”

“So, you don’t have it?” Did he not see the bills ready to leap from my fingers?

“No. You should read it.”

I suspected he had a stack of them behind the counter, but could see I was wasting my time.  Those notes weren’t going to read themselves.

I decamped for one of his competitors.  Again, I found I wide selection of curtailed classics, but Catcher wasn’t among them.  I sought assistance, only to hit the same wall.

A lady this time.  “Why?  It’s a great book.  You should read it.”

“Um.  Well it’s due tomorrow and …” I knew this was weak and began to wither under the repeated disapproval.

“You shouldn’t have waited so long.  You should read it.”

By now, I was determined to get my hands on those notes even if I had to disappoint every bookshop in the city.

I knew they couldn’t be colluding against me, but each time, without fail, all responded: “It’s a great book. You should read it.”

That afternoon, I waved the white flag.  I stormed home in a frustrated huff, picked up my copy of the actual novel and read the entire book in one sitting.

They were right.

Maybe a book about a sullen, lost teenager was just the right speed for a sixteen-year-old, but in many ways this book represented a turning point for me. I’d learned grownups weren’t always wrong, and also sometimes it was easier to just buckle down and do the work than find ways around it.

That memory gets me through days when writing feels like work.  Even when I’m plowing through a dreary section of prose (that I know I’ll cut later) I understand I might never find the gem just past it if I don’t put in the grunt work.

J. Gregory Smith is the author of the thriller Final Price, published by AmazonEncore.  He has written two other thrillers and a YA novel.  He is currently working on the third book in the Final Price series.  You can follow news of upcoming books on Facebook or Twitter (JGregorySmith3).

4 Responses

  1. Great story! And what an honour for your dad to have met and interviewed J D Salinger.

    June 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

  2. Jim Thomsen

    You asked for the Cliff’s Notes from a librarian? You’re lucky she didn’t beat you to death with the hardcover, man.

    Seriously, good essay. It’s good to know our generation found its way to this book. I hope the current generation of sullen teens does the same. Even if they’re a bunch of crumby phonies who give me a pain in my ass.

    June 22, 2011 at 10:30 am

  3. Greg Smith


    @ Jim Actually they were all bookstores, but I deserved the smack anyway! : )

    June 22, 2011 at 6:22 pm

  4. Constance Garcia-Brarrio


    As a fellow writer, I enjoyed your blog. Great picture of you, too.

    June 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm