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Self Centeredness - A Tale of Two Books

    One of my favorite books is Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  I read it on my own while in middle school, a second time by assignment in High School, and a third time while I was a student in college.  Mr. Salinger succinctly illustrates a timeless picture of teenage angst and a young man's realization of his self-centered behavior.  Some of the language or descriptions slightly date the book.  However, unlike so many classics read in High School, it allows an opportunity for any young man, and young women to take a look inside themselves to see even just a sliver of self-realization.

     One of the least favorite books (mainly because of the main character) is Rabbit Run by John Updike.  I read this book about two years ago. I was travelling back from Florida with my son Alek.  We were both listening to a program on NPR (on the day of the author's birthday) which included several past interviews with John Updike by Terry Gross.  During one of the interviews both Mr. Updike and Ms. Gross engaged in a deep character discussion of Harry Angstrom.  I was so impressed with the program, that I checked out the book from the library the day after I arrived home.  After reading the first 100 pages, I already knew that I hated Harry Angstrom, and that finishing the book was going to be a push.  It is very rare that I finish a book and didn't enjoy the experience.  John Updike did write the book well, one of his earlier novels, but the character was not a protagonist, instead he was a douchebag.

(Check out this link to the interview/program:

     I have always suggested to my kids that they muscle through the first 50 pages of a book before abandoning it.  Sometimes a book starts with a slow rhythm or frustrating character development that is discouraging to read.  I have found that audiobooks can be similarly frustrating, until you get used to the reader's method and quirks. The entire read was frustrating to me, not because of Updike's writing.  Rabbit is an poor excuse for a husband and a father, plain and simple.  Unlike Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Harry is an adult, a husband, and a new father.  Harry's brand of self-centered behavior is the kind that frustrates me the most with co-workers, superiors, and subordinates.  In fact, I find that I have little patience with self-centeredness all together.

     So why is this posted on Manager Sandwich?  Dunno, except that I feel there is a significant character comparison that allows us to understand the origin of this type of behavior, the damage it causes, and how epiphanies of self-realization can help people change.  Holden is a typical teenage boy at heart, but his selfishness has cost him relationships.  At the end of the book, and at the end of his New York City escapade, he sees himself, even for a glimpse, of how others see him.  Harry on the other hand is a child in a man's body.  Throughout the book, I nodded my head and muttered "A$$hole".  I even tried to read Rabbit Redux but after 50 pages, i summarily said "F*ck it!" and took it back to the library.  Maybe Harry gets it by the end of that book, or in the final book of the trilogy, but honestly, I had enough of him.  I work with plenty of Harry Angstroms, and didn't have the patience to waste my personal spare time reading about another one!

Holden on the other hand shows me the potential that disenfranchised or disillusioned people have to see through their situation and move forward in life.  Holden represents the possibilities that maturity can bring, while Harry personifies the selfishness that we must endure each and every day.  I am going to post this on facebook, and I hope that many people read it and respond with their take.

On a lighter note, a good friend of mine Rick once told me a funny story.  He was in an airport and had one of the attendants page for Holden Caulfield so he could see how many people looked up during the announcement.  Much to his chagrin, nobody that he could see responded at all.  I thought the story was a hoot, and I told him that he would have been able to notice me since I would be laughing out loud at the prank.  I am further suprised that I have never, ever met someone named Holden Caulfield.  I am sure that they are out there.


  1. While I understand where you're coming from, it's easy to get into trouble with making fiction into morality tales or fictional characters into role models. I read Rabbit, Run not long after it came out and was struck by the power of it, the picture of a hapless young couple, totally in over their heads. I still remember the horror of the wife - (was her name Janis?) - drowning the baby while drunk. The job of an author is to take a character and have things, often bad things, happen to that character. No flaws in the character, no bad things, no story. That's why I can't write fiction! I loved both Salinger and Updike and went through phases of reading everything they wrote. That wasn't so hard for Salinger, since he stopped writing after a certain point, or at least stopped publishing. Updike, on the other hand, had an amazing output throughout his long life. They both wrote fantastic short stories as well as novels. Their personal lives were not all that admirable at times and I think they both knew from first hand experience about self-centeredness. Regarding Salinger, you might want to read about his relationship with Joyce Maynard.

  2. Really a great most.And also informative too.Like this post.Thanks for sharing :)
    survive the end days book


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