I caught a part of a PBS show on J. D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye. I remember reading it while I was in college, after having become a Christian. I don’t remember the book itself so much as the musings it aroused in me.
I remember thinking that Holden Caulfield was nothing, just emptiness. He was that way because he believed himself to be nothing, so he was a living example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If only, I thought at the time, someone would come along who really believed in him, maybe he would awaken from the nearly lifeless trance he seemed to be in.
And I also remember thinking that, before coming to know Jesus Christ, I had been much like Holden. I had described myself as an empty ball with hopes and dreams and ideas spinning around a hollow core. I felt as if I had been born with a part missing, the part that would have made me a human being. I was aware, when I walked a few pages with Holden Caulfield, that this book would have been profoundly disheartening for me a year earlier.
As it turns out, Catcher in the Rye was disheartening for a great many people. It was the favorite book of the fellow who killed John Lennon, the favorite book of the one who shot Ronald Reagan, the favorite book of the fellow who shot and killed a young actress at about the same time.
The book is no longer in the headlines as it once was but sales are still around 250,000 a year (according to Wikipedia). It must still be on the reading list for a great many people. I wonder whether it is contributing, directly or indirectly, to the spiritual emptiness that seems to haunt so many people in our day. Hopelessness and powerlessness, despair and impotence: these are awful forces for evil.