Tag Archives: Classic

On F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and the Damned”

4 Nov
The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read its original review published in the New York Times.

What do get when you put a shallow, narcissistic, entitled, lazy man in a room with a shallow, narcissistic, entitled, selfish woman? Now add classism, money (or the lack thereof), and a pinch of self-loathing. Congratulations. You have the recipe for an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of ultimate gloom. A year after his first novel, and three years before his magnum opus The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald published The Beautiful and the Damned. It tells the sweet, sweet story of Fitzgerald’s romance with Zelda Sayre through the thinly veiled fictional representations Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert. Set in the robust backdrop of early 20th Century Manhattan, the Prohibition, and a young, wealthy nation on the brink of global war, the story of Anthony and Gloria is the perfect example of the youthful wantonness of the Lost Generation, and the horrors that oppose them: poverty, boredom, and the loss of beauty.

1922 film adaptation

The film adaptation of The Beautiful and the Damned was released at the end of 1922, a handful of months after the book was published. Rumors say another adaptation is due, and will star Keira Knightly.

Anthony Patch carouses his way across Manhattan with his bros Maury and Dick, living off and taking advantage of his grandfather’s millions. When Anthony meets the inimitable, youthful Gloria Gilbert, he is entranced and, for the first time, believes he is in love. Gloria accepts Anthony’s love as superior to her other suitors’ affections, and the two end up married. They make the most of Anthony’s allowance. They chip away at their savings and bond funds to stave off boredom through endless parties and constant libations. They are young and beautiful and dole out their razor judgment to everyone around them, including each other.

…there were the high-piled, tight-packed coiffures of many women ad the slick, watered hair of well-kept men–most of all there was the ebbing, flowing, chattering, chuckling, foaming, slow-rolling wave effect of this cheerful sea of people as to-night it poured its glittering torrent into the artificial lake of laughter….

Through all the wantonness, selfishness, and carelessness, Mr. and Mrs. Patch establish themselves as paragons of the Lost Generation. In their youth and with the promise of Grandaddy Patch’s inheritance, both gloried in the ephemeral. They made a point to revel in all things mortal and temporary, because, after all “only the romantic preserves the things worth preserving,” and there’s nothing worse than being a romantic. But when the promise of wealth is suddenly at risk and our heroes wake up to find their youth flitting away, they stand in horror on the precipice of an unknown future. Mortality turns from a goddess to a monster, especially as war looms in Europe.

The real life happy couple: Zelda and Scott. I bet they're both tight in this photo.

Anthony and Gloria’s blissful marriage is modeled after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s amorous relationship with Zelda Sayre.

Anthony and Gloria’s relationship–made tenuous already by their equally narcissistic personalities–begins to truly crumble under the weight of relative poverty and onset middle age, and each of their most wonderful characteristics are strengthened. Anthony paints himself a pitiable victim of a cruel system, and I’m not sure how much Fitzgerald doesn’t agree with the attitude he created. According to Anthony, the worst traits Gloria exhibits are being quarrelsome (read, “opinionated”) and unreasonable (read, “won’t submit to me”). But her worst flaw has to be being a straight-up sociopath. Gloria simply cannot imagine anyone else’s pain or inconvenience. Walled off as she is behind her fortress of superiority, she is as inaccessible as a partner as she is a character, and my own schadenfreude only lasts for so long. The length of The Great Gatsby is just about right for Fitzgerald’s heavy-handed devices, unsympathetic anti-heroes, and melodramatic themes.

Your life on earth will be, as always, the interval between two significant glances in a mundane mirror.

Read this book if … you are a patient person; if you don’t mind misogynistic, racist, classicist, white male writers; if you love the Lost Generation and everything it stands for: mindless frivolity, aggressive self-destruction, getting what you want when you want it. Even if you don’t love Fitzgerald and his American modernist peers, you have to admit that they throw the best party among the most pathetic circumstances.

Don’t read this book if … you despise drama queens. TBatD is the story of the suffering of the 1%, and it is virtually impossible to feel any kind of sympathy for the novel’s two central characters as they “struggle” to survive their quickly shifting circumstances. Fitzgerald can also be a little heavy-handed with his themes, and if the banality of the protagonists doesn’t drive you crazy, the petulant Irony and Beauty will.

This book is like … the original Gone Girl. It’s the story of two people systematically destroying each other with the age-old weapon called “marriage.” Maybe I made the connection because I just saw Gone Girl the movie twice in theaters, but the second I thought it, all I could see was an ice-cold, sadistic Rosamund Pike as Gloria, manipulating a vapid, narcissistic Ben Affleck as Anthony, both too absorbed with love-hating each other to notice that the light at the end of their tunnel of aristocratic suffering isn’t daylight but the steam-rolling train of tragic realization.

The inimitable F. Scott Fitzgerald

The inimitable F. Scott Fitzgerald in his military get-up. Fitzgerald didn’t see the front, but his experience in camp makes an appearance in TBatD.

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On Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”

17 Jun

The Sun Also Rises [1927] by Ernest Hemingway paints a portrait of the Lost Generation--namely, a group of ex-patriots surviving the Modern Age through willpower, irony, and a whole lot of wine.

The Sun Also Rises [1926] by Ernest Hemingway paints a portrait of the Lost Generation–namely, a group of expatriates surviving the Modern Age through willpower, irony, and a whole lot of wine.

Ernest Hemingway–grizzled, über manly, misogynistic, brawling, brilliant writer that he is–has been a strong influence on my life as a reader, ever since 15-year-old LitBeetle picked up A Farewell to Arms because she was really, really bored. Don’t get me wrong: the racism and sexism, the unabashed machismo gets my blood up, and not in, like, a sexy way. Hemingway is a pure and simple dick. I can temporarily suspend my moral outrage,though, because I’m absolutely in love with his spare and simplistic prose. With The Sun Also Rises, I basked in Hemingway’s iconic understated voice, and it left me sighing and staring appreciatively off into middle distance (not to mention left me wanting to drink wine from a leather flask).

In the first four pages of TSAR, Hemingway basically sketches out the entire plot of School Ties by introducing Robert Cohn, a young fighter who bruised his way up in the world and played a lot of football, so I kept picturing Brendon Fraser stalking around Paris with his jerk friend Matt Damon. The Sun Also Rises, though, is told from the perspective of Robert’s friend, Jake Barnes, who coasts through an indulgent, careless life as an expatriate in Paris. He spends his days writing news articles to wire back to America and spends his nights drinking copious amounts of gin, sherry, and absinthe. He is a proud member of the Lost Generation, and he is a mirror of young Ernest Hemingway’s life abroad. Having lived through the most horrific war in human history, Jake and his friends drown their disillusionment in unbridled pleasure-seeking, which seems harmless at first, but sentiments escalate when the setting changes to the violence of Pamplona’s bull fights and when everyone becomes tangled in an icky little love triangle, like you do. Jake’s love of his life, Lady Brett Ashley, is a free-wheeling, free-loving woman who can’t help herself but break a few hearts. Robert Cohn is the Jewish-American writer who vies for Brett’s affections, along with Brett’s fiancée Michael Campbell and Jake’s American friend Bill Gorton. So, I guess that makes it more like a love pentagon. It’s a whole mess and, according to Hemingway, we can pretty much lay blame on the Jew and the woman, obviously.

Here's a cheat sheet to all the characters:

Here’s a cheat sheet to all the characters: Jake Barnes, the self-pitying drunk; Brett Ashley, the heartbreaker drunk; Robert Cohn, the brooding drunk; Mike Campbell, the mean drunk; and Bill Gorton, the funny drunk (and then there’s Georgette, but we left her in Paris).

In Pamplona, watching the brutal running of the bulls and the bull fights, the love polygon gets heated, and all the drunks get to flex their drunky drunk muscles in high melodrama fueled by selfishness and Spanish wine. Jake hangs back as more of a passive, journalistic observer as the plot unfolds. Robert Cohn’s obsession with Brett grows during the fiesta, and so does everyone else’s anti-Semitism. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones, but my heart started racing as the tension built. I fully expected someone to whip out Valyrian steel and start lopping off heads. Hemingway’s hard-boiled, no-nonsense prose drives the atmosphere toward that tension. He builds with spurts of dialogue to move the plot along and rhythmic, repetitive descriptions to set the stage with lasting images.

Hemingway creates a environment that perfectly demonstrates the lostness of his Lost Generation. Jake and his friends wallow in their petty infighting, careless quips, and sadomasochism. At one point, Jake leans out of his hotel window, drunk as he has been for the entire week-long fiesta, and watches a man being gored to death by a bull in the streets below him. The bull’s horns pierce straight through its victim from the lower back and out through the man’s chest. It seems Jake feels nothing at the sight. Brett and the others love the fighting and the danger and even the gore. Only Robert Cohn feels sick to his stomach at the violence, and his sensitivity is one more reason for his companions’ derision. Cohn is the odd man out, the man who can’t participate in the irony and the coldness, the man who feels too much and actually invests himself in people. To the Lost Generation, a culture of calculated abandon and intentional denial, Cohn is weak so he is cast off. And also he doesn’t drink nearly enough.

Even now, Hemingway continues to be a polarizing author. Many readers hate him and his macho style, but he’s still revered as one of the best American authors to date. Tell me in the comments below if you’re Team Hemingway or a Hemingway-hater, and I want to know why!

Hemingway's own trip to Spain inspired TSAR. Here he is (far left) in café in Pamplona sitting next to Lady Duff Twysden, the inspiration for Lady Brett Ashley. (From Wikipedia)

Hemingway’s own trip to Spain inspired TSAR. Here he is (far left) in café in Pamplona sitting next to Lady Duff Twysden, the inspiration for Lady Brett Ashley. (Don’t tell me you wouldn’t hit that.) (From Wikipedia)

“Badly cogido …. All for sport. All for pleasure.”

Read it if … you’re a sucker for terse prose, Modernists, or feeling simultaneously superior and self-loathing about everything in general. Hemingway incorporates the confusion of the Lost Generation in a handful of iconic characters. TSAR is the perfect snapshot of the ruination The Great War and Modernism laid to young men and women and writers around the world.

Don’t read it if … your prosaic preferences lean toward more descriptive writing. Hemingway doesn’t tend to wow readers with flourishes or catchy turns of phrase, and, where other writers are more like painters, Hemingway is a blunt instrument hammering an image home. If the weather is wet, Hemingway will let you know things are wet and they’re damp and everything is wet and glistening with water because it’s raining wetness. If there are soldiers marching down a mountain, goddammit, Hemingway will force you to feel those footsteps in your bones. Don’t read Hemingway if you’re not prepared to be Hemingwayed.

This book is like … Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, which tells a slightly different tale of the expatriate scenes in Paris, only 30 odd years later. Like TSAR, Giovanni’s Room gives us protagonists who appear as cold observers, seemingly unfazed by the self-destruction all around them and yet complicit in it. And, of course, let’s not forget the most obvious allusions to The Story of Ferdinand by  the master Munro Leaf, because, you know, bull fighting.

I'm used to seeing Hemingway as the grizzled, bearded man shooting fish with a machine gun from his boat, but he wrote TSAR when he was only 27, a young journalist in Paris with his whole, epic career in front of him.

I’m used to seeing Hemingway as the grizzled, bearded man shooting fish with a machine gun from his boat, but he wrote TSAR when he was only 27, a young journalist in Paris with his whole, epic career in front of him.

 

On Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha”

3 Jun
Nobel Prize-winner Hermann Hesse published Siddhartha in 1922.

Nobel Prize-winner Hermann Hesse published Siddhartha in 1922.

There is no greater journey than that of searching for one’s Self. Think of Frodo and trekking to Mordor with Nazgul on his heels, Dorothy skipping toward Oz through fields of opium,  or Aeneas traversing the underworld. People love to watch the struggle against all odds, the passion that drives our favorite protagonists, and the transformations that happen along the way. I love tales of journeys the way I love football montages: all that grit and struggle and triumph. Makes a young woman tear up just thinking about it. When it comes down to it, Hermann Hesse has created one of the most read and most memorable tales of self-discovery in modern literary history. Siddhartha tells the story of the eponymous son of a Brahmin who spends a lifetime learning who he is.

Young Siddhartha grows up under the Hindu teachings of his father, a prestigious Brahmin. Siddhartha is known throughout his community as a beautiful boy, wise beyond his years, and holier than the most saintly saints. Siddhartha is so holy, in fact, that he has to leave home. His quest to understand himself and life itself motivate him to join a sect of ascetics, and when a life of deprivation and holier-than-thou judgmentalism loses its shine, he abandons the ascetics to hear the teachings of the Buddha, Gotama, and in turn, abandons the Buddha for a life of love and pleasure in the arms of the beautiful courtesan Kamala. In this way–traveling from sect to sect, mantra to mantra–Siddhartha grows from adolescence to adulthood.

At one point, Siddhartha meets the Buddha Gotama, but rejects his teaching to follow his own path.

At one point, Siddhartha meets the Buddha Gotama, but rejects his teaching to follow his own path.

In its essence, Siddhartha is a tale of self-discovery, but it is also a beautifully written character sketch of a protagonist who is rarely sympathetic and, up until the end,  unworthy of the praise he believes he deserves. The book began by portraying Siddhartha as a young man whose holiness and vigor for life led him above and beyond his childhood teachings, but we soon learn that his holiness is actually a superiority complex and that his vigor is actually discontent.

On the road toward what he hopes is a fulfilling life, Siddhartha says, “All whom I meet on the way are like Govinda. … All are subservient, all wish to be my friend, to obey and think little. People are children.” He is pronoic, narcissistic, and cruelly selfish, but it isn’t until he leaves behind all semblances of holiness for a life of physical pleasure and wealth that his true nature is really seen. In his narcissism, Siddhartha creates a fantasy of superiority to all around him, yet feels constantly his incompleteness, the flawed nature of his Self, and it drives him onward, away from the self-righteousness of asceticism, away from the celebrity of the Buddha, away from the affections of Kamala. When reading Siddhartha, it would be easy to look for symbols of holiness–patience, self-denial, wisdom–and for symbols of rotten nature–greed, lust, pleasure–but human nature can rot in a whole variety of ways and in as many ways be healed. Siddhartha’s path to discovering who he is covers all the bases.

I love living near water, and many of my fond childhood memories take place on the banks of a stream or lake. I can see how the river becomes Siddhartha's best teacher.

Abandoning teacher after teacher, Siddhartha finally finds one of the wisest: the river.

Read it if … if you haven’t read it yet. Siddhartha is one of those novels that everyone should read at one point. You can finish it in half an afternoon, and then sigh and look longingly at a river for the rest of it.

Don’t red it if … you don’t feel like contemplating life. As short as it is, the novel forces a reader to consider desire, contentment, and narcissism. It’s the kind of heavy stuff you only find in tiny, unassuming books that you were supposed to have read in high school but didn’t because your English teachers were only there to coach soft ball. No, I’m not bitter.

This book is like … a strange combination of Cervantes’s questing Quixote and André Gide’s The Immoralist: there’s a lot of marching around making grand statements, and a lot of self-pity. But like The ImmoralistSiddhartha is intensely contemplative. Also, check out The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This novel is also a quick read and follows another one of those air-headed protagonists who lost his Self. (I’ll be honest, though, and say I’m not a fan of Coelho’s. Come fight me if you want.)

Highly acclaimed German literary figure Hermann Hesse attempted his own spiritual enlightenment through Indonesia and Burma. Perhaps, Siddartha, he tried to write the enlightenment he wanted for himself.

Highly acclaimed German literary figure Hermann Hesse attempted his own spiritual enlightenment through Indonesia and Burma. Perhaps, in Siddhartha, he tried to write the enlightenment he wanted for himself.

On Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

11 Feb
This is the first edition cover of Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company.

This is the first edition cover of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company.

In today’s world of vampire high schools, fast-talking vampire hunters, sparkling Mormon vampires, and Southern gentlemen vampires who drink blood from pouches, it’s easy to forget about the old chap who truly started the fad. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is to blame for the influx of our blood-sucking fandom today, and it began all the way back in 1897 with a mysterious Transylvanian count, a Dutch professor, and a few unsuspecting English folk trying to mind their own Godly business. The legend that started with a real life count, notorious for skill as a war general and his ruthlessness toward his enemies, evolved to become this classic horror novel–thanks to Stoker’s fabulous literary skill–proving you don’t need glitter and glam to carry the story of a vampire.

Vampires are all the rage nowadays, but Bram did it first. I haven't read Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer or Charlaine Harris. If any of you have, let me know how they stack up against Dracula. (Pic from sfx.co.uk)

Vampires are all the rage nowadays, but Bram did it first. I haven’t read Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer or Charlaine Harris. If any of you have, let me know how they stack up against Dracula. (Pic from sfx.co.uk)

Dracula is composed of letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles–a whole book of collected recounts. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor who takes up his first client as a new partner in his firm. The client happens to be a notorious count from an age-old lineage in Transylvania. His name is Count Bogdan!!! … No, silly fool. His name is Dracula, and he’s a crazy, superhuman, wolf-controlling, wall-climbing, moonbeam-riding, seductive, real estate-investing, blood-sucking mofo. He also happens to be ready for a change of venue and hires Harker to secure a new home for the count in the jolly old country of England. As Harker spends more and more time in his presence, Count Dracula’s true nature is gradually revealed, and Harker is deeply traumatized. The Count’s migration to England finds more people in Harker’s circle involved, some of them becoming victims of the UnDead monster.

The threat of Dracula ruling in Godly England is too much to bear, and a crack team of pure-hearted, bold-souled men and women gather to fight off impending doom. To lead them, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing arrives from Denmark, filled with arcane wisdom and years of experience in the battle of Good versus Evil.

Obviously, Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing was a little dramatized. The real Van Helsing was a kindly old man with a handful of garlic, but he was just as competent in decapitating vampires.

Obviously, Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing was a little dramatized. The real Van Helsing was a kindly old man with a handful of garlic, but he was just as competent in decapitating vampires.

I make light, and this book does have an adventurous feel similar to Jules Verne or Robert Louis Stevenson, but Stoker also includes several unquestionably creepy scenes in Dracula. A zoophytic psychiatric patient traps and eats bugs while he awaits some unknown arrival. Three spirits in the shape of beautiful women descend on moonlight to seduce Harker in his bedchambers (I know that sounds awesome, but it’s really very scary). A single, unmanned ship sails into the harbor on a wave of dark fog. If there’s one thing Stoker knows, it’s suspense, not to mention Dracula‘s pacing and narrative structure, which are well crafted to suit the building horror of the story. Don’t come to read this great classic (notice I didn’t capitalize “great” or “classic,” but I still think this book is pretty swell) if you’re looking for love triangle romances in the Pacific Northwest, and don’t come looking to read literary junk food with nothing but empty ellipses and glitter. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the real deal. Do it right. Turn down the lights, turn up Philip Glass’s Nosferatu score, and find someone to cuddle while you read this fantastic book.

Bram looks like a fun-loving guy, like a chap who knows how to party. (Image from biography.com)

Bram looks like a fun-loving guy, like a chap who knows how to party. (Image from biography.com)

On Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Ceremony”

15 Oct
A harrowing story of post-traumatic stress and a young man trying to identify with two cultures, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is a modern classic.

A harrowing story of post-traumatic stress and a young man trying to identify with two cultures, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is a modern classic.

In part because I want to make a trend of authors with three names and in part because I feel I missed out on a huge literary cultural reference in high school, I finally picked up Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. This is the powerful and heart-wrenching story of two wars: the war between the U.S. and Japan in the Pacific Theatre, and the war between white culture and Indian culture in the Arizona high desert. Tayo, a mixed race soldier, is the victim of both.

Tayo was born of a Laguna Indian mother and an unknown white father, and as a “mixed breed” boy, the product of a shameful liaison, he is the target of ridicule from his peers and shunning from his guardians. Only his cousin Rocky accepted him as a family, called him “brother.” Tayo’s idolization of Rocky leads him to enlist, and the two of them are shipped to the jungles of the Philippines to fight the Japanese. When Tayo returns to his Laguna community alone, he falls farther into isolation, now hounded by survivor’s guilt and shell shock.

The first few pages show the signs of a zealous reader. The rest of the book shows the sign of a reader who either ran out of steam or ran out of ink.

Bought this copy for a dollar in a tiny library in Rhode Island, and the markings are like an anthropological find. The first few pages show the signs of a zealous reader. The rest of the book shows the sign of a reader who either ran out of steam or ran out of ink.

Ceremony tells the story of the tradition of storytelling:

I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.

You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories

The story was all that counted

OK, so she might be a little heavy handed with the storytelling. Silko’s already lyrical prose is regularly interrupted with folktales and legends in the format of songs or poems–line breaks, imagery, and ancient names that Tayo finds comfort in. Tayo goes to these storytelling roots for more than nostalgia. Through them, he finds solace and cleansing. Through them he performs a ceremony of lost culture that purifies him of a culture of war, of the ceremonies of drunkenness, brutality, bitterness, and murder.

When Tayo embarks on a journey to round up a vagrant herd of his Uncle Josiah’s Mexican cattle to rebuild the family ranch. He slowly learns–through the help of Old Betonie (and several well-placed, catalyzing events)–that he has the power to write his own story, a new continuation of a story that can never end. (I’m having flashbacks to “Lamb Chops” here.)

The cattle Tayo chases are made to live in the mountains and the desert. They are wild and lead Tayo all across the land that used to belong to his people.

The cattle Tayo chases are made to live in the mountains and the desert. They are wild and lead Tayo all across the land that used to belong to his people. (Photo by Will Borden)

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m big on war novels, but Ceremony is something different. This is the aftermath of war. It’s messy and depressing. Even the disillusionment on the battlefield in books like All Quiet on the Western Front or A Farewell to Arms is readable compared to Tayo’s long suffering afterwards. I wouldn’t say this book is easy to read, but it’s beautiful. Silko’s novel reminds me a little of John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat–the story of men after war, especially marginalized men. Men of racial minorities who treated like heroes when they’re in their uniforms, when the threat of alien invasion is imminent. When the threats of fascists and Nazis and Japanese Imperialists are removed, the Indians become the enemy again. We always have to have our enemy.

On J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”

18 Aug
You probably already own a copy, but if you don't, pick one up. J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is a must-have.

You probably already own a copy, but if you don’t, pick one up. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is a must-have.

In some horrific failing of the American public school system, I managed to escape the assigned reading of J.D. Salinger’s quintessential classic The Catcher in the Rye. And not just me but, for all I know, every single student graduating (or not graduating) out of my little podunk hometown in Eastern Oregon, missed out on this reigning member of literary canon. I ought to write a letter to President Obama: Mr. President, just how is my generation going to change the future of America for the better if our high school English curriculum doesn’t even include The Catcher in the Rye on its collective syllabus?  Well, we can’t. We’re all just a bunch of goddamn phonies. I really mean it. This copy was even owned by some high school freshman named Cheryl. Even 14-year-old Cheryl isn’t as phony as me. (Good thing, too, she went and used a blue highlighter on every single name in the goddamn book, other wise I’d never have made it through to the multiple choice exam at the end.)

At this point, it’s safe to say there’s something seriously wrong with me because this novel was absent from my most formative years of psychological development. On the other hand, you know, Mark David Chapman. Chapman cites TCintR as an inspiration to assassinate musical legend John Lennon on December 8, 1980, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to read Salinger’s novel without feeling the additional weight of this knowledge.

Lennon's soon-to-be assassin receives an autographed album first. Chapman used The Catcher in the Rye as his manifesto, even calling himself Holden. Chapman was obviously tormented by his love and hatred of pop culture, too, and because of this, destroyed a cultural icon.

Lennon’s soon-to-be assassin receives an autographed album first. Chapman used The Catcher in the Rye as his manifesto, even calling himself Holden. Chapman was obviously tormented by his love and hatred of pop culture, too, and because of this, destroyed a cultural icon.

Even before he became the muse of Lennon’s murderer, Holden Caulfield must have been a daunting character to readers. He is a troubled, angst-driven teen with a chronic problem of getting expelled from high-society prep schools. If it isn’t his failing grades or lack of interest in academic structures, it’s his loathing of his peers that sends Holden packing to yet another boys’ boarding institution.

We can all sympathize with kids who don’t fit in with the horrors of high school, but Holden also happens to be a compulsive liar, hypocritical, self-deprecating but hopelessly narcissistic, and most of all self-loathing. Holden plods through his spite of society and almost eloquently revels in the disgust he holds for all the phonies and hypocrites around him–the people who remind him of himself. In brief moments, you, the reader, experience the shear passion and love Holden has for the world and from humanity, before descending back into the wonderful, colloquial rant of bitterness and pain. He can’t escape the intensity of his emotions. His attitude is pretty much summed up in one quote: “So I took a cab. I didn’t want to, but I did.” In the end Holden is just as much if not more of a hypocrite as everyone he hates and loves so virulently. It is himself he hates and loves so virulently.

(Goddamn awesome illustration by MadLibbs)

“Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules.” Holden hates the game (and the player, just so we’re clear). (This goddamn awesome illustration by MadLibbs just kills me.)

Despite Holden’s hatred of film (among other things), or perhaps because of it, my first impulse was to cast him for a film adaptation. The first person who came to mind was Shia Labeouf, if only because I can so clearly imagine him saying, “goddamn,” 265+ times in the course of a few days.

Go ahead. I dare you. Tell me he doesn't look the part.

Go ahead. I dare you. Tell me he doesn’t look the part.