I Have a New Catcher in the Rye


It is with so much delight that I’m announcing David Sedaris’s Barrel Fever as my new Catcher in the Rye. This is great news for me, for you, and for my very, very few friends. Congratulations, everyone, we no longer have to suffer the Holden Caulfield affectation, a spectacular achievement in execution failure though it may have been. I’ve also just finished David Shields and Shane Salerno’s ‘Salinger’ and read with great interest the Assassination section, specifically Mark David Chapman’s, and I’m symbolically cowering in shame for being guilty of the same crime as him: overlooking the humanity behind Holden’s profanity-laden but sobering view of humankind. My misreading, though, is not as total as MDC’s. My love for Holden stemmed (yes, stemmed) from his unfamiliarity with his own person (yes, person) the loveliness of which I feel strapped itself to my very own unfamiliarity with mine. We didn’t/don’t know the world, our place in it, and that was lovely in a movie, literary setting kind of way, but in your late 20s, not knowing your place in the world is just infuriating. Yes, I’ve already proclaimed freedom from the clutches of JD Salinger’s penetrating worldview, but if Mariah Carey can proclaim emancipation three times, why shouldn’t I?

When JD Salinger died, I rushed to Fully Booked and bought a hardcover Catcher in the Rye because I’m not the kind who idolize properly and sensibly. I might be sick with a disease characterized by uncontrollable urges to spend on things as a sad gesture of undying admiration. I might be suffering from a kind of psychological disorder that does not let me rest until I physically own something of the worship-figure. The easiest, most obvious explanation would be that I am a goddamned fool.

With Barrel Fever, there can never be a misreading, a misinterpretation, not even a silly attempt to embody a persona of an esteemed literary character. Maybe one: Adolph Heck, named after history’s most vicious imposer of viciousness, in the collection’s funniest story, Barrel Fever. A mother naming her son Adolph is guaranteed a slayer of me. I love Adolph and his mother. I love that Adolph’s sisters are named Faith, Hope, Joy and Charity. I love how he mocks his friend who once was his closest ally in mocking the mockable but who now has clung to nice persons.

Barrel Fever has become essential reading, a warder of the blues, a pair of shades in a dessert storm, a pair of truly dependable earbuds for Metro Manila life, a pair of balls in your ballsless days, etc. A Barrel Fever is a best friend.

Each reading of Barrel Fever for me is fresh. Sometimes I want to live in it and lap up the freshness.

If one day you find yourself in the pages of a Barrel Fever-like publication authored by myself, and you feel like pressing charges for character defamation because you Feel like I have cruelly borrowed and repackaged one of your least attractive characteristics and turned it into a bestseller, I’m sorry but I’m not sorry. If you decide to press charges, sue me for libel, you will find me in court carrying a tattered copy of Barrel Fever, with the words, ‘This is my statement!’ scribbled beside blurbs that proclaim it as ‘breathtakingly irreverent’. ‘This is my statement!’ — the very words written in Mark David Chapman’s copy of Catcher in the Rye, a piece of woeful evidence that was brought to court for the trial of the crime of gunning down one of the world’s most famous Beatle, 1/4 of Mariah Carey’s Billboard Hot 100 nemesis, John Lennon. I do not ever wish to reach the same level of insanity but there is a need for me to make friends with things whose reason for existing is to supply me with joy.

I may have already confessed an attachment for this Sedaris book, and even though the retelling of this attachment seems to go against what Adolph Heck feels about saying the same thing twice: ‘…nothing gets on my nerves more than someone repeating the same phrase twice. I think it’s something people have picked up from television, this emotional stutter. Rather than say something interesting once, they repeat a cliche twice and hope for the same effect,’ I feel it’s a necessary retelling. This is my statement!

These Goddam Books

I’ve always believed that The Catcher in the Rye is the one book that I will take to my coffin, to the grave, six feet below earth, for when they finally bury me because I adore every word printed on that skimpy looking book. At some point, I stopped rereading Catcher in the Rye  not because I stopped liking it (I seemed to have really developed a relationship with it already as my affections for it swing back and forth between liking it and loving it) but because maybe, I feel like I’m digging much into it, and as the John Lennon homicide and the Jake Gyllenhaal character in The Good Girl would tell you, it’s not very good.

And so I’ve been rereading that other Salinger book. Franny & Zooey largely diverts my attention away from myself and onto something else, specifically to my sister who I wanted so much to be Franny-like. I don’t know when exactly I started being so identifyey with book characters but I rue the day it began. In my warped little mind, I’m Zooey and little sister is Franny, minus the heated and very literary exchange or the looks. I’d hate to elaborate because I’d hate to one day find out that she’s found out about me telling these, but if you’re dying to know, the short of it is that I want her to stay in school but that she prefers Jesus over anything else now. It’s a mismatch, my perceived parallels, but there’s that relevance I’m so convinced about and I can’t get rid of them.

Franny & Zooey is something I can’t not read every once in a while because if I don’t feel like reading anything but feel like I have to, it’s the one that I instantly think of because it’s so light and clean-looking. If you’re not careful with this book and you think you get the meaning of a certain passage that you instantly decide you admire for whatever reason, have a good retraction ready because somebody might point out that Franny is raging against something more than insufferable English Department professors and boyfriends who substitute an A-grade thesis for penis.

I read Catcher in the Rye in college and it was the perfect time to read it because college is the time when, for no particular reason, your own college feels like Pencey Prep and your college friend is a dead ringer for Ackley, attributes which should have been lost on me because I didn’t hate Dapitan and I had a nice, unannoying male friend. Contrary to oft-quoted critical literary claims, Holden Caulfield has redeeming values. He loves his sister Phoebe, the precocious innocent little girl, the causer of some of the book’s more emotionally poignant parts. Cringe all we want, but Holden then was just so alive for me. Back in that age in college, I thought I really knew what he was talking about even though I really didn’t. And if I had been more literal-minded then, I would have dropped the business subjects, maybe fail them all in purpose, ace just literature and award myself for truly embodying what it takes to be Holden Caulfield. But I could not have done so. I passed Economics and Accounting and everything went fine. I got a job I’m okay with (at least now), and I can’t imagine not having those medical benefits, paid vacation leaves, the christmas hampers and the cozy desk and the swivel chair. The benefits are, as Queen of the Phonies Sally Hayes would tell you, just marvelous. They’re grand.

Catcher in the Rye was important to me as an Impressionable College Boy, a stature that roughly translates to a phase of praising to high heavens pieces of literature that one happens to stumble into that strike a chord. And I never thought that there would come a day when I’d be heavily dramatizing that, what once was an insufferable fanaticism to Holden Caulfield itself, just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I’m thinking that maybe I could not have survived this life, that’s so precious and so full of wonderful, amazing things according to most people who are not phonies, had I continued devouring Catcher in the Rye. In the first place I would have surely been accused of affecting an aura of detachment and all the corny things that goes with it and I could not have tolerated that. So after maybe reading it 57 times,  I realize that it’s probably a good thing that my attention’s been diverted away from that book. I can’t forever be reading it. I’m Pinoy and I can’t always be using 50s slang, much less American teenage slang and be forever deluded that I’m getting away with that kind of language and angst. It will get corny and phony. For sure, I will read it again and again but just not as much. I will however forever adore JD Salinger and all the meanings he would not give in this lifetime or the next.