Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye

“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. That doesn't happen much, though.”

Holden perfectly describes in the above quote how I feel about The Catcher in the Rye.  It’s narrated in the first person so you get sucked into Holden’s mind; although you know that Holden is unreliable, (he is very troubled) he is a somewhat charismatic narrator whose unhappiness seems to speak to a lot of readers- myself included. 

I first read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger as part of my English course when I was 17.  At that age, life can feel really topsy turvy and I remember feeling really disillusioned and struggling with the idea of growing up. The character of Holden Caulfield really resonated with me and I found that I identified with him.  Now, I’m (quite a) few years older, the book inspires me to be positive and at times, I feel infinitely sad for the protagonist: a character who is dealing with a lot, seemingly by himself. 

The book deals with Holden’s mental breakdown and the consequent emotions of it; loneliness, lying and deception, the ‘phoniness’ of the adult world. For me, they are themes that are prevalent during your teenage years but it’s only as you get older you learn to deal with them instead of letting them get you down and recognise and ask for the help you need. 

The Catcher in the Rye is a coming-of-age story that you can turn to time and time again, who says you have to be 16 or 17 years old to feel lost or disillusioned with the world?  It also shares themes with some of my other favourite books – The Perks of being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, The Spectacular Now, The Bell Jar. For me, the fact that this book is still so popular and well read, even though it was published in the 1950’s, emphasises that it really is a brilliant book and one that I will continue to read time and time again. 

This is part of the 'My Favourite Book' series: authors, bloggers, and readers sharing their favourite book on 'Reads and Recipes'.  If you're interested in contributing one of your own - you can find out more information here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Build a Girl is the latest offering from bestselling author Caitlin Moran.  Following on from her international feminist hit How to Be a Woman this is a fictional account of a young, overweight girl  from a council estate in Wolverhampton – Johanna Morrigan - who, with thanks to her local library, becomes a music journalist.   Every day Johanna walks the six miles from her council estate house to the town library to read the music magazines and to rent the latest tapes.  The novel takes its name from the idea that your parents can only teach you so much: eventually they will have taught you all that they know, and it is then up to you in to go and build on this with all of the adventures and experiences you will have.  And Johanna does just that.  She becomes a music journalist by day and a lady sex adventurer by night.  Determined to learn all there is to know about kissing, sex, and life in London she jumps at every opportunity, sometimes falling, sometimes flying but always learning and always looking for her next big break.

The thing I found most frustrating about the novel, however, was the author’s note at the beginning.  Noting the similarities between herself and Johanna, Moran goes on to say that despite the large family, growing up in Wolverhampton, and stint as a music journalist readers are to remember that the novel is fictitious, and the events detailed within it are imagined.  Yet with this thick line between the “real” and the “imagined” aspects of the novel and Moran’s own life comes the acceptance that this story is anything but original.  The world has already heard the story of the precocious teenage girl who would write thousands of words a day in a bid to save her family from poverty.  This coupled with the occasional insights from the narrator, that this was what it was like in the nineties, mean the novel is both telling us it isn’t anything at all like Moran’s own life yet seeming a lot like Moran is re-imagining her unique teenage years through Johanna.  The result is a confused message: why cash-in on what makes Caitlin Moran unique and then begin by telling us that this coming of age tale is anything but unique because it can also happen to this girl – Johanna – who just so happens to be from the same town as Moran and born into the same financial struggle with the exact same aspirations.

Overall, however, it was an enjoyable read.  Fans of Moran will enjoy the occasional impassioned speeches which are similar to her articles and How to be a Woman.  This is what Moran does best: through her own unique use of language, short and snappy sentences, she sums up the feeling of a generation.  Taking on the topics which other authors tend to shy away from: female masturbation (female sexuality in general really), cystitis, the welfare state and Thatcher. Moran weaves prose which could be directly lifted from her column or HTBAW between the narrative arc of Johanna’s journey of self-discovery.  If you’re able to overlook the fact that a large chunk of the plot is remarkably similar Moran’s own life story and just see this for a heart-warming coming of age tale of a young overweight girl in nineties Britain then it is an enjoyable read.  Funny, thoughtful, and genuinely thought-provoking whilst not being too heavy handed with her political message – it’s the perfect continuation from How to be a Woman.  The only downfall, as I said, is the author’s note at the beginning telling you it is anything but autobiographical.

How to Build a Girl is available in the Kindle store for £4.72

Have you read it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or send me a tweet!
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