A Shameful Confession


April 27, 1991|By MARK MILLER

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is when I was born, and what my childhood reading habits were like, and why it took me so long before I finally read ''The Catcher In The Rye,'' a book that most kids read in junior high or high school.

Well, back then, back when I was 13, 14, 15, 16 and all, I just hated to read, if you want to know the truth. Oh, I read comic books and Time-Life picture books, magazines, the paper and stuff like that. But nothing too serious, nothing the teachers called serious literature, at least on my own.

I remember in sixth grade this girl Nancy who used to read a book a week and the big deal that Mrs. Wise, our red-haired teacher, made out of it. She really did. And I also remember Michael Poston who was in the same class, and the time he looked down his nose at me behind those thick, nerdy glasses of his, acting like he was superior and smarter because he had read ''Exodus'' and I hadn't. That killed me. Heck, I still haven't read it.

Just last year I tried to read ''Moby Dick'' and ''A Tale Of Two Cities'' and couldn't get past page 1 of either. I don't know whether it was because of the old-fashioned writing or what, but my eyes started to close faster than you can say, well, they call me Ishmael. I must admit I feel a little guilty when I think of myself sitting in that library, nodding off trying to read 2 of the finest works ever written in the English language, especially now that I'm a book editor.

The next thing you'll probably want to know is how I became a book editor, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. All you need to know is that I am one, and that I hadn't read ''The Catcher In The Rye'' until now because I hated to read, and that I recently read it because I got tired of being the only one who hadn't, or at least the only book editor who hadn't.

I first heard of ''Catcher'' and Holden Caulfield back when I was 12 years old. A guy named Isaac was reading it to me, and I remember him laughing at the passage that appears early in chapter 1, where Holden notices Old Spencer picking his nose and says, ''He made out like he was only pinching it, but he was really getting the old thumb right in there.'' Isaac really cracked up over that.

When I read it I pictured Isaac as if it were yesterday, pointing to the passage and grinning that silly grin of his and sticking his thumb up his nose the way he thought Old Spencer might have done it. Last I heard, Isaac became a lawyer because he didn't feel like going into his old man's diaper business even though BTC the business was very successful. I guess he'd feel kind of weird at cocktail parties telling people he was in diapers. I know I would.

Anyway, I was 25 the next time I heard about ''Catcher.'' Maxine, my girlfriend at the time, told me that I reminded her of Holden because he too liked to visit Rockefeller Center.

The thing was, we were planning a trip to New York and I had told her that Rockefeller Center was one of my favorite places and then she mentioned Holden. She said something like, ''That's where Holden Caulfield liked to hang out, remember?'' asking me like she assumed I had read the book. She looked real surprised when I told her I hadn't, dropping her jaw and flashing her big hazel eyes like I was some kind of pervert or something. She just couldn't believe that none of my teachers had ever assigned ''The Catcher In The Rye,'' especially since we had both attended the same junior high school. ''You really should read it,'' she said. ''I know you don't enjoy novels, but this one is a must.''

Well, now that I've finally read it, I kind of agree with old Maxine. This Holden, he's a lot like me, if you want to know the truth. He hates phony slobs and snobs and crumby books and obscene graffiti and people who say one thing and mean another. And he loves kids. Boy, how he loves kids. Just like me. But I can't picture myself reading ''Catcher'' over and over like some people do when they discover a great book. Now that Holden's turned 40, maybe this Salinger guy will come out of hiding and do the unthinkable: write a sequel.

@4 Mark Miller is book editor for the Daily Record.

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