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The Catcher in the Rye is one of the few books that I've read twice. The narrator and protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a teenage jerk, but his constant, pointed criticisms of the shallowness of modern life make me laugh. Holden punches and weaves through everyday banalities that most people embrace as the precious prizes of life. He disdains the ballyhooed elite prep school he attends; he thinks little of money; he is nauseated by the forms of entertainment most people find enjoyable. He intuitively sees the shallowness of the things that are the cheap fodder of existence for most people.

In a later book, Franny and Zooey, Salinger continued that theme, weighing in heavily against the vulgar junk food of modern life. In this book, a brilliant young girl named Franny is undergoing a breakdown that alternates between religious fervor and simply giving up on life. At one point, her mother tells Franny's sage brother, Zooey, that Franny needs to see a psychiatrist. Zooey explodes: “You just call in some analyst who's experienced in adjusting people to the joys of television, and Life magazine every Wednesday, and European travel, and the H-Bomb, and Presidential elections, and the front page of the Times, and the responsibilities of the Westport and Oyster Bay Parent-Teacher Association, and God knows what else that's gloriously normal–you just do that, and I swear to you, in not more than a year Franny'll either be in a nut ward or she'll be wandering off into some” desert.

This type of stuff really grabs my spine. Salinger, despite his ample faults and peccadilloes, knew shallowness when he saw it. His characters, Holden and Franny, intuitively and correctly sensed the shallowness of modern life and are reviled for it. Franny's Mom wants her to see a psychiatrist; Holden's parents put him in a psychiatric institution.

The Catcher and Franny and Zooey are pictures of the struggles awaiting any person who begins to question the conventions of everyday society or desires to get past the banality that Chesterton saw coming. They give glimpses of the affronts awaiting the person who stands up and says, “Wait. Stop. All this stuff is wrong, or at least misplaced, or at least misdirected, or at least mistrusted. It's fun but ephemeral; nice but shallow; a pleasant diversion, but neither true nor beautiful.”

And, like Holden and Franny, a person who questions–or avoids–the conventions might be viewed as a weirdo.