Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

It was an odd coincidence that I happened to read this book right before the huge storm of publicity about J.D. Salinger's comeback; the movie, the book, the new writing. But I'm glad I did, because having tasted his work I can look forward to the big reveal in 2015 even more. Previously all I had read of his was was A Perfect Day for Bananafish, which was an incredible read that really stuck with me, and the The Catcher In The Rye was the same.

The story is narrated by one Holden Caulfield, telling us, the anonymous audience, of the events of a few winter days a year ago. Considering that all the new advertisement of Salinger will draw many people to the book, I probably should try not to spoil it for the newcomers, so I'll be vague, but the story begins at Pencey Prep, the fourth high-end prep school Holden has attended. The previous three he had been expelled from. The problem with Holden is that he doesn't try, it's not that he's not smart. He's apathetic to the whole education system, and he's kind of a class clown as well. He likes to mess with people. 
You find out that Holden's been kicked out of Pencey, too, and he decides to skip out early and take a train up to his hometown of New York City. He can't go home until his parents get the expulsion letter, though, so he has to kick around for a couple days. 

The book wasn't action-packed by any means- it's hard to give a clear plot-line because there aren't many points on it. The focus of the book was really to understand Holden's character, how he saw things. Holden is sort of the epitome of the angsty teen-- nothing is really wrong with his life, and yet he sees everything as bothersome and fake, and you realize once you get to know him that behind the facade of carefree goofiness, he's actually depressed. I'm sure that if he told people in his life how he really felt, they would respond with the age-old expression "others have it worse". Maybe he has told people, and maybe they have said that, and maybe that's why he seems to lie to himself as well. I really admire Salinger for portraying Holden like this, because it's something a lot of teenagers can connect to, but that adults seem to write off a lot of the time. There are a lot of teenagers that are having a really difficult time, that are sad for maybe no tangible reason, but sad nevertheless because of things inside them, and yet no one tries to help. No one tries to help because they're a teenager, it's a passing thing, it's just hormones or angst, and really they're being dumb, or selfish, or immature, because look around, there's people that have it worse. And when people tell you what you feel is irrelevant, you tell yourself that, you keep all of this sadness bottled inside, where it multiplies and drags you down even farther. 

I admired Holden for his honesty. He was very clear about what he thought of people, and he saw right through social conventions, people's actions and personalities. His character is known for calling everyone "goddamn phonies", because everyone acts differently depending on the context, and he saw how everyone presented a different version of themselves to be palatable to the audience. But he didn't hate people. He saw them for what they were, so while he may hate an aspect of their personality, he could also like an aspect as well, and he was fine with that. I think this point of view extended to himself as well. He knew what he was, and he would call himself out very plainly on it-- he'd say he was "yellow", too yellow for war, he would just go to the front lines and get shot up right away if he went, because he wouldn't be able to stand the fear. This is really amazing for a teenage guy to say, because most would probably dream themselves war heroes. He's so perceptive, but he doesn't really have anyone to talk to about what he sees. I guess I connected to this because I find, as a teenager, this amazing moment in time where, really, I'm on the mental level of an adult, I can understand things like an adult, but I haven't yet succumbed to the social constrictions of being an adult. I'm not ruled by the sensibilities and responsibilities, and my thinking hasn't yet been shaped into the mold of adulthood. It's like when you're little, and you ask those silly questions, or make those silly remarks, and everyone laughs because you don't yet have the common knowledge that would answer those questions for you. But then you look back on something you said, or on something a child has said, and realize how penetrating it is. Maybe you don't get what I'm saying, I'm sort of on a tangent, but... children see things more clearly than adults because those things aren't wrapped up in complications or biases yet. So teenagers are at a point in time where they see things that way, but can actually consider them with the mind of an adult, and so for me, I think that it's such a precious time, and you should be aware of how you think because it's too easy for society to put blinders on you.

This sort of leads into another theme of the book, which was childhood/innocence vs. adulthood and the loss of innocence. Holden sees things as a child would see them, but considers them as an adult would consider them, which is why I think he's so pained. He sees truths that most adults have taught their brains not to see, because it would be too painful otherwise, but Holden takes in these truths and really empathizes. He gets into a cab and feels bad because he thinks all about the cab driver's life, and then all about his, and sees such a huge difference there. He feels the embarrassment of a kid that has cheaper suitcases than him, so he hides his. For this reason I think he wants to protect the innocence in others, although there is another explanation I won't spoil for people who haven't read the book. He wants to be The Catcher in The Rye, catching kids before they fall over the cliff...catching them before they fall into adulthood. This is what he says when his little sister Pheobe asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. I can relate to this train of thought, because I myself have been on it recently. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, profession-wise, I don't think I could give you a straight answer, but I know that I want to write, to travel, to experience, to make art, to be content and happy, and enrich people's lives in some way. Yet society pressures us into a career path, deciding how we'll earn our keep, and I really don't think this is how teenagers should think about their futures. Each person should make their own path, not follow one that's already been tamped down by thousands. 

Phoebe, Holden's little sister, was the one character I truly connected with in the book. I guess it's strange that I didn't resonate with Holden the most, although I do agree with everything he says and thinks. But throughout the book Holden fell on Phoebe as a source of stability and happiness in his heart, even though she only really showed up in the last few chapters. He wanted to protect her so bad, he wanted to be there for her, because she was the embodiment of the innocence he had lost. She was still young, and there was hope for her, and he wanted to shield her against the pain and sadness of growing up but simultaneously being a child. She was the one that really led him off the path he was on, one of self-destruction, and made him confront his life. She was the goodness in him, and whatever he did, he wanted to hang onto her. It was truly touching, and it was my favorite aspect of the book. 

I can see why this book is lauded as one of the American greats, and J. D. Salinger as one of the best American authors. I don't want to be stereotypical and say that he truly portrayed teenage alienation, because literally everyone who had ever read this book has declared that, but he got inside the head of a teenager so perfectly. The way Salinger writes is not overwrought with emotion- he leaves that to you. He says things so simply, makes observations and presents ideas, and he counts on you understanding them enough to fill into the story your own feelings and interpretations. Maybe that is why teenagers think Holden Caulfield is so much like them; Salinger created Holden as a strong character who could stand on his own, but that was malleable enough for every person reading this book to make him their own, and supply their own feelings and connections to bring his story to life. In that way, Salinger is a very humble author. He's not so pompous as to make a story completely his own- to say, I created this, you can appreciate, but it's mine and not for you to personalize. He simply presents his story, but leaves the job of making it whole to the reader. I'm not really sure if it was good or bad for my appreciation of the book that I felt distance from it: I could understand better what Salinger was trying to portray, but I couldn't experience it as well. Overall though, it was an amazing book, and it lived up to it's acclaim. 5/5 stars.


"That's just the trouble with all you morons. You never want to discuss anything. That's the way you can always tell a moron. They never want to discuss anything intell--"
--page 44-45

"One of my troubles is, I never care too much when i lose something- it used to drive my mother crazy when i was a kid. Some guys spend days looking for something they lost. I never seem to have anything that if I lost it I'd care too much."
--page 89

"When in hell are you going to grow up?"
--page 146

Sorry that my post went on for so long, I guess I got a little carried away. Here's a sketch of Holden I did to make up for it ;)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Failed Endeavor

Before school this year, I got a notion in my head: I would be a fashion blogger. I'd be one of those cool fashion-y girls that wears dark lipstick and pouts all the time and stomps the halls in Lita boots. Well, the first two things I did anyway...and Lita boots are overrated. But mainly, the reasons were-
1.) It validated my sometimes-self-obsession.
2.) I thought the name I came up with was cool (Style Asylum).

So I tried, and after about .2 posts I'd run out of things to write about. But it seems a waste to not post the pictures anywhere, so let this be a tribute to the deceased Style Asylum. May it rest in peace.

Almost-Fall Playlist

Lorde- Tennis Court

Haley Reinhart- Oh My!

John Legend- Who Did That To You

The Animals- The House of The Rising Sun

The Kinks- Sunny Afternoon

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Girl In Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

"A professor invites a colleague from the art department to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer--why has he hidden the important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of stories that trace ownership of the painting back to World War 2 and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner's hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in human lives. Vreeland's characters remind us, through their love of the mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts, and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable."

A couple months ago, before I had ever heard of this book, I had an idea for a movie. That happens every so often, me getting ideas for things, but this one I liked in particular. I thought how interesting it would be to have a movie following the life of the main character, but only through the eyes of those she encounters. Would you ever know who she truly was, or would you only see what others wanted her to be?

So it was sort of serendipity that I picked this book up, because I didn't even realize until about halfway through it that it was almost exactly what my idea had been, and executed so beautifully. It just made me connect to it all the better. 

The main character in Girl In Hyacinth Blue  is the painting of the girl in hyacinth blue itself- something that sucked me in right away. Each chapter shows the painting in the hands of a different owner, and provides insight into how the owner connects to the painting. I loved that each chapter was strong enough to stand on it's own; the chapters had originally been published different places as short stories, which meant they didn't necessarily have to connect to each other, but the connections made the themes that much clearer. When you finished a chapter, you said goodbye to the characters in it, but Susan Vreeland did an amazing job at relating you to the characters and their story in the little time you had with them. 

The book was a sort of commentary on how art affects people. It draws out truths about ourselves that even we don't know, and this is what Susan Vreeland explores. The painting is at once the same and different in every chapter, because the characters see it through their own biased lens. If a character wants to escape, the girl in the painting may be looking out the window with longing. If a character wants to be rich, the girl may not be sewing because she doesn't have to. By this means you end up learning so much more about the characters than if you had simply experienced them the way they show themselves to the outside world.

Susan Vreeland's writing style is also incredibly gorgeous. Her descriptions are rich with detail, and the way she presents people, drawing on tiny mannerisms and perceptions, you understand exactly the person she is talking about immediately. I liked her book in part because she's one of those authors that I feel I think similarly to. Those ones where they say something, and you understand them exactly; one phrase can speak volumes. I think different people connect to different authors in this way-- I can read an amazing, classic book, and appreciate it, but not connect to it the way I connect to another book. The reason I bought this book was solely the first sentence. I could tell right then and there that I would understand it completely.

"Cornelius Engelbrecht invented himself."

And that sentence, right there, don't you understand exactly the kind of person being introduced?

The end wrapped up the ideas of the story so well, tracing the painting back to it's conception, when it was first painted by Vermeer. It focuses on how he wants to capture truth, and in this way he has to contemplate for long periods of time before painting. He wants to make things alive. I think Vreeland may have put a little of her own feelings into this chapter; her work is beautiful and and reveals the truths of human nature in a subtle and eloquent way. In the end, I think Vermeer creates something that tells a universal truth, and that lives long after it's creator dies.

The setting being in Holland made the story and culture so much richer, and I also fall for anything professor or art history related (this book had both) so you can understand how elated I was. This is definitely the newest addition to my favorites shelf ( Fahrenheit 451 and The Rebel Angels were getting a little lonely)- the writing was beautiful, the story was contemplative, the characters were vivid. 5/5 stars.

I also need to give a shout-out to the cover designer for the book, because that's what made me pick up the book in the first place, and it's so pretty I refused to mark it up at all. The hyacinth blue on the cover has got to be one of my favorite colors, and the picture window was unique. I love how spaced out the type on the pages is, too. It gives you room to think.

Read if you like:
-Art history
-Short Stories
-World War II

"If two people love the same thing, she reasoned, then they must love each other, at least a little, even if they never say it."

"People who would be that close to her, she thought, a matter of a few arms lengths, looking, looking, but would never know her."

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's Alive!

My scanner finally came back from the dead! I haven't been able to scan anything for weeks so now I finally get to and post all my failure to the world wide web. I'm pretty excited, too.

This is actually from last year but I don't think I ever posted it. There was an assignment to illustrate a line from Romeo and Juliet so I chose
"Swear not by the moon, th'inconsistent moon, that monthly changes in her circled orb, lest thy love prove likewise variable."

I took a stab at the Mirror's Edge poster, but just using three colors and more of posterized style. My interest kind of petered out after the figure and the logo, so the city and text are sub-par.

I did Cara Delevigne in pencil. Some charcoal from another picture rubbed off on it though, so all the shading is messed up- I'll probably re-do it in the future.

I started reading The Catcher In The Rye  last night and felt the need to draw Holden. Except of course I had to make things hard on myself, so I challenged myself to do under ten minutes and with charcoals. This is the outcome... As far as the book, I'll probably review it when I finish (I'm about halfway through, so hopefully in a couple days?). I like it a lot so far... I can read through a pretty good chunk of it in one sitting without feeling like I have to stop and digest, but it's not shallow or anything either, and I like that the narration is so stylized and conversational. It's not my favorite, but it's definitely a good book.

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