ironical isn't a word

How do I count the ways I hate J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye?

I am on page 40 and have nearly 200 more pages until I am done this novel for Sunday's book club. I wish I had finished it the first time, when I was 16, rather than getting so frustrated by the main character's inaction now -- his very refusal to do anything, his really amazing ability to stifle and cripple his own emotions.

Ironical isn't a word. Or at least, it damn well shouldn't be.

I get that Salinger is trying to illustrate that the protagonist doesn't know as much about the world, and himself, and being an adult, and basic language, as he thinks he does. (Although a friend did spell that out for me this evening over drinks while I lamented the world at large.) But really? Using "ironical" once every other page? That's really just irritating.

I also kind of hate this line:

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. (p. 18)

Salinger checked out. Teenage boys in every western, developed, English-speaking country since the 1950s have wanted to meet this guy to tell him about how they, too, are intellectually and emotionally stifled, and he just checked out. He went all secluded, he stopped writing, and he wouldn't let his book be turned into a movie, forcing those angsty teenage boys to grow up and make movies just like it.

I'm trying to contextualize this book as something I could enjoy reading. I simply can't put it in the same category as the teenage girl's best friend, The Bell Jar, because Plath is a better writer and her protagonist was far more depressing.

A fellow member of book club has decided to read it as a boy's journey toward a complete breakdown. I choose to read it as a case study in the male ego, with particular emphasis on what this tells me about the men I've known who love this book.


cringe, cringe, cringe

So, I was thinking about starting off this blog post with an entry from one of my old diaries.

But then I skimmed through one, from my first year of university, and a teeny bit of bile rose in my throat. My stomach folded in on itself, I was cringing so hard. I literally could not find a single entry I would not be embarrassed to have read by strangers, let alone my parents.

It is so embarrassing to realize that for an entire year, when I was supposed to be thinking about learning and big ideas and all that stuff, I was thinking pretty much non-stop about boys. Sigh. So glad I owe so much money in student loans.

See, I'm back from Europe, which accounts for my hiatus. Plus, I've been reading a book I can barely stand, so I've not really been moved to post anything at all....

But then, I saw this article in Saturday's edition of the Edmonton Journal -- specifically, in the youth-geared ed section.

The year was 1987, the boy's name was Rob, and 13-year-old Ingrid Wiese had some pressing concerns.
"He kisses weird," she wrote in her diary. "I just hope it doesn't stick and I don't end up kissing like that forever."
Twenty years later, Wiese hauled the diary out of storage and read it to a bar full of strangers just for laughs.
"Cringe readings," these exercises are called, and they are growing in popularity....
(Samantha Gross, The Associated Press)

Always eager to share my embarrassing stories -- the guy at a high school dance who mysteriously blew in my ear, the university fellow I kissed after he showed me he could drink from two bottles of beer at once, my former roommate's ex-boyfriend who used to sneak around our apartment, peeking around corners instead of entering rooms -- you'd think this sort of a reading would be my thing.

And absolutely, if one's happening in Edmonton, I'll be there.

But I'm not setting foot on that stage. It's too much. Sure, funny for others. However, I still feel those waves of insecurity that could sweep through my life at 16 and hold me hostage. Everyone does. The difference is you learn to handle it.... but I'm not sure I'm ready for others to laugh at it yet. Mostly I really do want to reach back and hug the girl I was, and the girls she hung out with -- a sentiment echoed, in Gross's article, by Wiese.

By the way, the book I'm trying to get through?

Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

In the edition I'm reading, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, it took 61 pages to meet Anna Karenina. Who, apparently, can extinguish her eyes.

I find the prose painful at times, and I can't decide if that's because I'm not reading it in Russian. And, of course, the book is just very long. I can't seem to care about any of the characters, especially Anna and Vronsky, the (I assume) ill-fated illicit lovers. They're both so bloody self-centred, completely uncaring of anyone around them.

One of my best friends, who just finished reading the classic this spring, promises this:

I found that Anna herself was one of the least developed characters in the book, and so really the best part is Levin. The title is misleading, because he's the real hero of the book. Trust me, it gets good. Also, because it's so long, by the time it finishes you don't really want it to end, like a TV series or something (although you do because you want to get back to real life).

Hmph. He's probably right. Must finish the book.

Besides, is there any better post-coitus description than this?

That which for almost a year had constituted the one exclusive desire of Vronsky's life, replacing all former desires; that which for Anna had been an impossible, horrible, but all the more enchanting dream of happiness -- this desire had been satisfied. Pale, his lower jaw trembling, he stood over her and pleaded with her to be calm, himself not knowing why or how.
"Anna! Anna!" he kept saying in a trembling voice. "Anna, for God's sake!..."
But the louder he spoke, the lower she bent her once proud, gay, but now shame-stricken head, and she became all limp, falling from the divan where she had been sitting to the floor at his feet; she would have fallen on the carpet if he had not held her.
"My God! Forgive me!" she said, sobbing, pressing his hands to her breast.

Wow. How romantic.


the decision

In case you were on the edge of your seat, the man in our book club has selected Catcher in the Rye.

Not to rhyme, but, well, sigh.

I tried to read Catcher in high school, and detested it. My theory is it's a boy book. In general, I don't believe in boy books -- even though there are many studies that indicate little boys, given the choice, will read non-fiction books about hockey while little girls will read fictional stories about relationships -- but I've met few men who didn't love Salinger's classic, and few women who did.

So, once I finish Anna Karenina, looks like it will be time to dust off my teen angst and read the book that inspired pretty much every single movie about boys coming of age since the 1950s.


for the boy

For the first time ever, a boy is picking the next selection for our book club. This is not as big a deal as you might think, as our book club has only met five times in about nine months.

But still. Guys do think differently than girls do. It's really exciting. That's why sometimes we (me, just me) treat the lone boy in our ranks as some sort of circus animal who will do tricks for us (again me). We (I) insist on pausing about half an hour into the discussion and turning on him. "What is the male perspective?" Suddenly, he is thrust into the position of speaking on behalf of men everywhere. (My fault. All mine. No other women in the group are responsible for this.)

Poor guy. Of course, not a lot of guys without English degrees have had to read Persuasion, so really he's not having to speak on behalf of that many people.

Anyway, one way men and women think differently about book club is that women have a tendency to send out the uber-nice "anyone have suggestions?" e-mail. This e-mail is an invitation to passive aggression, since the woman who next hosts book club will just pick what she wants to read, or what she thinks the majority of people will take the time to read. Responses to the e-mail really just serve to stress her out, and make her worry someone might be offended she didn't select their book.

Our man in book club has bypassed this, but to be honest he was unlikely to feel that bizarre guilt anyway.

So here is his discussion of a short list (edited for brevity):

"Catcher in the Rye
My theory behind this one is that it is probably the quintessential masculine book and up until this point the books have leaned toward the girly....
War Reporting for Cowards
OK this book would be different for the group because it is non-fiction, but it also touches on the form of literary non-fiction or new journalism, which would be a good topic of discussion.... but not along our usual vein of what does he mean by this?....
Fever Pitch
Nick Hornby, who wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy, both books I thoroughly enjoy, also wrote Fever Pitch, which I have always meant to read.
Love Monkey
There is a TV show I like that is allegedly based on this book. The show is very smart and amusing and I am working under the assumption the book might also be. This one is fairly low down the shortlist on account of I know nothing about it really, but I am thinking about it mostly out of curiosity.
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
I was thinking about this one because it is so tragic and vivid. To the point where it is really hard to read and at the same time hard to put down. It is the kind of book where at the end you just want to blow your brains out or drink heavily or drink heavily and blow your brains out, so we'll see.
I was also thinking about another Stephen King (I am not sure Different Seasons was the best way to open up to him) or a John Grisham book...."

See what I mean? Men and women approach book club in completely different ways. I say this mostly because I would never choose any of these books, so a more accurate statement would be that this man and I approach things very differently.

Except Love Monkey, which of course I'm excited about because the man selecting the books is least excited about it. I'm contrary that way, but I love the description, from one of the reviews, of a man calling his interest in a woman a once-in-a-lifetime thing, like cleaning behind his fridge.

how cool

This is better even than checking out next season's fashions on the runway. It's like making your list for Christmas....


I want money (that's what I want)

How much do I love this faux blog? The faux blogger is like those people from the humanities department you party with at university!


excuse me, miss?

Clean-cut, in his early 20s, the man was trying to get my attention as I walked down Jasper Avenue. I paused -- nearly a decade living in the country's big cities, and I still have that small-town girl pause in my step when someone seems to need my help. Back in Ottawa, I could never hold on to change longer than five minutes when I walked down Elgin or Bank.

"Do you like to read?" he asked.

Pausing doesn't mean I'm friendly. "Mm-hmm," I managed shortly, ready to continue on down Jasper Avenue. If he were about to ask for change, this was a better beginning than the guy who asks me every Sunday how far he is from Whitemud Drive (always about 50 blocks north or east).

"Then please check this out," he said, handing me a business card before continuing on his way.

I did check out his website -- www.teace.ca

Can't say I'm overly impressed by the prose, but you have to respect a guy who's trying so hard to make it as a writer he's walking down Edmonton's streets pimping his website. Because for all the wonderful things to appreciate about this boom city, panhandlers, solicitors and Scientologists/Mormons who stop people on the street are generally given a chilly response.

But I do find it fascinating that a guy who opens with, "Do you like to read?" makes clear in his profile that he actually doesn't. And I have a feeling a really good writer is probably a good reader, too....