35, 36 & 37: The Catcher in the Rye; The Wilding; and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

“If teen angst were a novel…”

People have decidedly mixed reactions to this book, and I can never quite decide how I feel about it. While it’s very well-written, and Holden comes out with what I think is an excellent literary yardstick (“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”), I think he signally fails his own test. Nobody really wants to be friends with Holden. He can’t let things go. His hatred of “phonies” seems hypocritical and self-serving when you see the ways he dissembles without seeming to make the connection. His favourite author is his brother, which is pretty adorable, but he has a typically teenage contrariness that manifests, for example, in a hatred of the movies which seems essentially to boil down to disliking what’s popular.

I’m afraid I read this about a week ago (I have a backlog of un-written-up books), so I’m not sure that it’s fresh enough in my mind for me to go into real depth with it. It’s a good book, just with a slightly aggravating protagonist.

This story of a seventeenth-century cider maker, family secrets and intrigue is, actually, really quite good, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize. There’s a lot about cider, and the details and intricacies of its manufacture, but for me that was done in a way that reflected the narrator’s primary concerns, not an authorial tract on historic booze-making intended to show off the extent of the research that had been done. A “wilding” is a tree that grows without having been planted; its relevance becomes clear, even obvious.

Everyone has secrets and, without trying to give too much away, the ending is not exactly Austenian perfect felicity, but is strangely satisfying nonetheless. There are ghostly elements, in the form of dreams, but whether the dreams are actually supposed to be from beyond the grave or merely imaginary is anyone’s guess; the novel itself is mostly far too grounded to be called a ghost story.

Milestone reached with this book: first 21st-century book read for this project.

To say that Tom Sawyer is superstitious and has a fertile imagination would be like saying that Mount Everest is a tolerably large hill. In this classic boy’s tale he inhabits a world of witches and curses and charms to find lost marbles and bits of twine and all the other currency of small boys. He plays at pirates and Robin Hood and just about anything else. He woos the young girls with capers and manic energy. And when he gets caught up in events, though he is naughty and wilful, he shows himself to be resourceful and honest and brave.

Twain (real name Samuel Clemens) sprinkles the story with allusions which would probably escape most young readers, including the very droll description of a freshly-washed Tom being “a man and a brother, without distinction of colour” (referring, of course, to Josiah Wedgwood’s famous “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” anti-slavery medallion). I also choose to believe that, when talking of playing Robin Hood “by the book” (possibly this book), the reference is to Touchstone’s “O sir, we quarrel in print, by the book” from As You Like It.

The Catcher in the Rye
Author JD Salinger
Published 1951
Pages 192
Best line “It smelled like fifty million dead cigarettes.”
Best character Phoebe.

The Wilding
Author Maria McCann
Published 2010
Pages 333
Best character Mathew Dymond, the protagonist’s father. At every stage he does the right thing, or what he judges it to be.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Author Mark Twain
Published 1876
Pages 283
Best character Huck Finn, later star of his own book.


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