“I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Books on Tap met outside at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, September 2nd to discuss J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  

As usual, we started the discussion with some background information on the author, who was a World War II veteran and later in life a recluse. The success and controversy around the book as well as aspects of his personal life (including a nine month relationship with eighteen-year-old Joyce Maynard when Salinger was fifty-three) brought him undesired publicity.

A coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye takes place over a few days in New York City, 1951. The protagonist and unreliable narrator, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, has become a cultural touchpoint, often referred to as an important 20th century literary character. NYC is also a “character” in the novel as Holden visits so many NYC landmarks over the course of his wanderings.

Several in the group had never read this classic; others had read it years ago and were revisiting it. Most enjoyed and recommended the novel, finding the theme of adolescent angst timeless, but a few of our readers found the story exhausting and didn’t care at all for Holden.

While written for an adult audience, The Catcher in the Rye is often on English class required reading lists in many high schools. As such, it has also been frequently challenged or “banned” due to some of the profanity and behaviors of the characters. A timely read for Books on Tap, as Banned Books Week 2021 takes place later this month.

Other books mentioned:

Frannie and Zooey

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Joe Speedboat by Tommy Wieringa

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (discussed by this group Nov. 2015)

Salinger/Joyce Maynard on PBS 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, October 7th, at 7 pm, to discuss Still Life by Louise Penny. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information.

“On the far side. What if it’s just…noise?”

Books on Tap met (in person!) at Champion Brewing Company on Thursday, August 5 to discuss Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. 

The two main characters, Charlie and Maurice, partners in crime, have lived lives of violence, licentiousness, addiction, theft, and threat. They lived lives in which their “job” became their lifestyle, as often happens when the “job” exists in a dark underbelly of a world — when you turn to the illicit, it becomes harder and harder to separate work from play. This character-plot trope was our first source of discussion: many members didn’t like the characters themselves, or even the experience of reading, but once the book was finished, liked it more. The experience of reflecting on the book was, for many, more enjoyable than the book itself. This was also because of the dialogue, which, while humorous and broodingly dark, was colloquial (heavily Irish-dialect), and may have required a dictionary. Some readers absolutely loved the book, even comparing it to Hemingway, with its spare writing and its quietly gripping premise. We also compared this novel to Samuel Beckett, especially “Waiting for Godot.”

We discussed how the process of aging looked in this book, for Maurice and Charlie, but also for Dilly, the estranged daughter. Maurice and Charlie, two “aging Irishmen,” spend the present-tense portion of the novel sitting in a ferry terminal, waiting and hoping to see Dilly. The passiveness of simply waiting and hoping, the harsh reality of all they went through as criminals, and the prevalence of memory within the narrative, all combine to create a worn-weathered feeling for these two men. One member recalled questioning with a laugh, “since when is 50 old?!” and other members chimed in that the characters felt “spent”…much older than their chronological age. The interesting dynamic of premature aging had other members wondering what a sequel could look like for these two characters. What do you do when you’re fifty years old and you’ve already lived through enough hardship and danger for multiple lifetimes?  

As for Dilly, some exclaimed she was just a baby in all of this, while others argued she was a legal adult and a grown woman. She was on the cusp between adolescence and adulthood, a precarious age that can be interpreted in various ways, especially when the character has lived a life like Dilly’s: a complicated trajectory of danger and abandonment, as well as trauma and strength. This led us to discuss when we first really felt like adults. Pivotal moments such as escaping a childhood hometown, getting married, and having a baby were all cited as moments that kickstarted a transition into adulthood for us.

Along with aging came the concept of time. The entire novel takes place within 24 hours — a detail most of our readers completely missed. The immersive experiences of the memories had us feeling like we were occupying much more time than a single day. But one sharp reader noticed a line of dialogue, first appearing at the beginning of the novel, and then once more at the end, which served to sandwich the entire story: “would you say there’s any end in sight?” Barry surely picked this line intentionally, and while we didn’t get to discuss the potential significance of this line, I’d love to know: what do you think? Even if you haven’t read the book, what does it say to you about time and aging? Can you imagine being a drug dealer/smuggler, trying to find your own way in the world, or to make sense of it all? 

In the end, some found the trajectory a little depressing, and in a way, depressing for them as readers. It was almost like Barry was putting us through our own hardship in creating characters that were not inherently likable, that we then had to watch suffer — all without the balmy sense of goodness that comes with feeling sympathy for another person. Yet, another way of looking at these two, was through a lens not of sympathy, but of understanding, and empathy. While the novel is entertaining and brisk, it is also mournful, almost completely devoted to all that has been lost: love, youth, family. It is difficult to remain completely disconnected from a feeling so universal. 

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, September 2, at 7 pm, to discuss The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

Upcoming Titles: 

September 2: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

October 7: Still Life by Louise Penny

November 4: Feed by M.T. Anderson 

December 2: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“The library is a whispering post.”

Books on Tap met virtually on Thursday, July 1 at 7 pm to discuss The Library Book by Susan Orlean. The Amazon book blurb hooks us in by describing a catastrophic fire and the lingering puzzle: “more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library — and if so, who?” But being the library geek I am, I’ll share a secret: take a peek at the call number, 027.4794. The 000 class is for “computer science, information, and general works”; the 020 division classifies “library and information sciences,” and the 027 section is for “general libraries.” Readers with this knowledge won’t be surprised when they find “the broader story of libraries and librarians” (Goodreads). I would have expected more investigative-style journalism if the call number had been 345 or 364!

In fact, “Orlean noted that its [The Library Book] design is actually very intentional. Rather than a chronological and subject-leading discussion of the fire, she instead sets up the book as a sort of library in which each chapter is a volume of its own. This allows the reader to learn a little bit about everything, just as they might by browsing titles on book spines in a library” (Book Riot). So how did our readers respond? We found Harry Peak to be the thread who kept popping up throughout the book. He kept us reading until the end, as there were swaths of the book that were more arduous; pages felt bogged down by seemingly endless statistics. There was just enough Harry for us as readers (we took Orlean’s bait and stayed on for the history, social commentary, quirks, and stories of local, everyday transcendence and transformation). 

In fact, Orleans provided plenty of space for additional characters of interest, and our group loved the larger than life personalities, especially the head librarians; we were surprised at the level of independence these figures had, given the library’s positioning as a public, bureaucratic, government-associated institution. But these librarians were like cowboys — romping through the wild west and pulling off dazzling stunts. Reading about the level of power and influence was almost dizzying, and certainly added hints of tension to the narrative — a bad director could have easily created a world of destruction and hurt. Would it happen in L.A.? What we did not find as endearing were the gimmicky card catalogue inserts at the start of each chapter. We found very little correlation between the item being catalogued and the content of the chapter; but, these artifacts did reiterate for us the immense variety of materials available. This was something we found (and enjoyed) throughout the book. We are all familiar with library books, but it was delightful to read about maps, musical scores, and restaurant menus, too. 

Most of all, our members were “amazed” (their word, not mine!) at the extent of a librarian’s job. At the crux of this amazement was the realization that librarians have to deal with so much (and so much of it arrives under our noses without any advance warning). The promise of change, uncertainty, and novelty is what drew many of us into this field, though. We enjoyed telling our own stories and reflecting with our club about how libraries, like grocery stores, are some of the best places to visit when travelling, as they are unfiltered, uncensored reflections of the community. Libraries treasure local history and information, are free and open to all members of the public, and their core values include access, democracy, diversity, intellectual freedom, and service (read more about the core values of librarianship, and find links to other amazing documents such as the Freedom to Read Statement the Library Bill of Rights, here). We have more work to do before we can say we truly reflect our service area, but we show up daily to put in that work. 

This love-fest would have been all the more fun in person. While our Zoom meetings have allowed us to share conversation with faraway friends, we are excited to reconvene at Champion Brewing Company for our next meeting (Thursday, August 5, 7 pm). We will be reading Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. Please join us at Champion next month! Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information.