Desert Island Lit | Episode 3 (BooksNest)

Beth | BooksNest

Beth is an award-winning blogger and BookTuber.

She also writes about mental health, blogging & social media tips, feminism, sex positivity and travel.

As one of my favourite content creators, it’s an absolute pleasure to host her.

Welcome to Desert Island Lit. In this episode, I’m thrilled to be joined by the delightful Beth of BooksNest.

In this series, I ask my guests to pick five – and only five – books to take with them to the Island of Absurdia. A solitary island where one whiles away their days in joyful isolation, accompanied only by their favourite literature!

Swept away on an existential tide, Beth finds herself in solitary confinement on the Isle of Absurdia.

And because we’re on the Isle of Absurdia, our esteemed guest will, as always, receive a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus and a luxury item of their choice. In this case, she’s picked a cinema popcorn machine – large but of course necessary.

Beth's Desert Island Lit Picks

Is anyone surprised… probably not.

I have a few reasons for picking this book, not only is it huge and therefore would take me a good chunk of time to read, but also there’s so much to discover from it in each reread. I feel I could read it as a different book each time which would be an excellent source of entertainment for me. There are so many messages in Tolkien’s books and I love the way we all read them differently. 

The world of The Lord of the Rings has been with me ever since the first film came out when I was a child. I loved the elves the very best; their elegant movements and skill with a bow and arrow. My grandad actually made me my very own bow and arrow so I could be like Legolas in a nearby forest.

In short, this world has been with me since childhood and will be with me for my whole life I expect. It’s something I have a very personal connection with on quite a few levels. 

It wasn’t until a few years ago I first read the books, which I think was the perfect time for me to read them and love them. I’m already considering a reread, so it’s a good thing this tome would be with me on a desert island! I loved comparing the books to the films, of which the films have stayed incredibly true. And seeing my favourite characters come to life in a whole new way.

I’m sure there are better yoga books out there – but this is the one on my shelves. If I’m going to be abandoned on an island, I’d like to find some zen and get really good at something that will help my body and mind. I’ve always enjoyed yoga, but I’ve never dedicated enough time to get particularly good at it, so I guess this would be my time! 

I find exercising is always something I think negatively about, despite the good it does for me. But there is something about yoga that makes me hate it a little less. The release it gives when your muscles start to stretch and your body feels more open, is quite brilliant. 

It pains me to give away a perfectly good slot to a book about exercise, but I think I’d thank myself for it.

This has quickly become one of my favourite books. I read it in 2020 and it’s stayed with me ever since. This is a book about a man who can bring the characters from other books out of their pages and into the real world. This is based around books we would know and love, such as Matilda and The Chronicles of Narnia

It follows two brothers within its story, the magical brother and the one trying to help. We’re following the latter as he tries to get to the bottom of something much larger at play. Along this journey we see a fictional street being created where all of these fictional characters can live together. Seeing them interact with each other and be so true to their original depictions, is any fiction lover’s dream!  

The reason I’ve picked this, other than it being absolutely excellent, is also because it’s almost like getting multiple books for the price of one. Because this book features characters from childhood and adult classics alike, it feels like you’re also getting the familiarity of those books too. It’s a rather lovely experience to rediscover these characters in new ways and see what adventures they dive into in The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.

I was wracking my brain to think of books that would cover a range of genres, so far we’ve had high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, exercise (uhh exercise), so it was about time for a historical romance. 

If you haven’t heard of this book then perhaps you’ve been living on a desert island because it is AMAZING. It follows the life of Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood starlet in the 50’s onwards as she experiences rises and falls in her career and also seven marriages along the way. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is brilliantly written, captivating and tender, tense and emotional, it has everything an amazing work of fiction needs to keep its readers hooked. So I think it would keep me endlessly entertained on a desert island. 

I remember my first (and only – so far) read of this book was in the autumn of 2018. I listened to it as an audiobook on my way to and from work and I can still remember the feeling of listening to it every day. It became the anthem for my commute and gave me something to look forward to each time I drove my car. It really is a book with an atmosphere that just stays with you so perfectly – how could I not pick it for this list?!

I thought long and hard about my final book for this list, especially trying to pick a stand alone vs a book in a series I’d never be able to finish stranded on this island.

There was a lot in contention, but I wanted something long enough to entertain me for a while, and something that felt warm and wholesome. I went for Little Women in the end, a book I only very recently read for the first time, in December 2021. 

I wouldn’t say it’s a favourite book of mine, but it’s in this list for one simple reason. It feels like home. 

My logic being, if I’m stuck alone on this island I’m of course going to be homesick, I’d yearn for family and friends, for companionship and for traditions and festivities. Little Women is pretty much the first book I thought of that had all of these things. It’s pages are filled with the stories of the March sisters and their lives as they grow from girls to young women. I know I could turn to any chapter and feel comforted by their stories. 

I think this book really resonated with me because it follows four very different paths these sisters take. I’m at a crossroad in life at the moment where I’m seeing a lot of friends my age go on to do very different things to those I am achieving and it can often feel strange. But for me, Little Women reminded me we all have our different routes in life and it doesn’t make them any less valid if they’re not the route everyone else is taking. 

Also having seen the recent film adaptation, I think I could picture this in my head too and have an even more visual reading experience. So really, this book would be like bringing a film with me too.

Big thanks to Beth for getting involved – it’s been a genuine pleasure to host one of the UK’s most popular BookTubers on the blog.

Let me know what you think of her selections in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out her blog, Patreon, and social channels 👇

SEO Beginners Guide for Bloggers

SEO Beginners Guide Blog Header Blue
SEO Beginners Guide Blog Header Blue

Table of Contents

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is the practice of optimising your content to make it easier for search engines to index your blog in their search results.

This, in turn, means that other people are more likely to find your website of their own accord, boosting your views and helping you to find new readers.

The good news is that you don’t even need to be technically minded to do this. Whilst SEO can be complex, the core principles remain the same.

This Beginner’s Guide to SEO uses examples relating to the book blogging community, as they are my audience. However, these tips, tricks, and nuggets of guidance are perfectly applicable to any blogger or content writer.

So what exactly is SEO?

As you probably know, Google dominates the internet.

In fact, around 92% of search engine traffic goes through Google alone. Alternatives such as Bing and Yahoo (amongst others) make up the rest.

Therefore, what I want you to take away is this – Google is primarily where your potential readers go in order to find content.

It is therefore in your interest to get your blog to appear in Google search results. Especially when you consider that roughly 5.6 BILLION searches are made every single day!

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is where this comes in. It’s exactly as the phrase suggests – optimising your blog content in a way that appeals to a search engine’s algorithms.

This might sound complicated, or even a little tedious, but it’s actually quite straightforward in principle.

How does Google rank content?

There are hundreds of ranking factors that could affect where your blog posts appear in Google, but it all returns to one thing – how valuable is your content?

Not in a monetary factor, but what value does your content bring to the user searching for it?

To address this, it’s important to recognise what Google Search actually is. It’s a commercial business that makes money by sending users to the right place, at the right time, at great speed. That’s why the first thing anybody ever does when they want to have a question answered, is to go straight to Google.

Google therefore ranks web pages based on their perceived value.

For example, perhaps you want to search for reviews of the novel Dune.

If you do a Google Search for ‘Dune’, you’ll get a variety of results back. Some for showtimes of the movie Dune, and even results for the high street store, Dune London. All this does is create confusion, frustration, and ultimately leave you disappointed.

SEO Beginners Guide Google Search Dune
Simply searching 'Dune' will give you results for shoes, movies, and books - not very relevant!

But you already know this, which is why – if you’re looking specifically for book reviews – you’ll search for something like ‘Dune Book Review’ or ‘Frank Herbert Dune Review’, or ’review of the novel Dune’.

So, when you’re writing your own Dune book review, you’ll want to try and include keywords like these, and a number of variations, so that your post is seen by Google to have intrinsic value to the topic the user is searching for.

SEO Beginners Guide Google Search Dune Book Review
Simply searching 'Dune' will give you results for shoes, movies, and books - not very relevant!

In brief, SEO is how you’ll find the novel, rather than the retail store.

How do I Improve my SEO?

There are loads of ways you can improve your SEO. Here are a few methods designed for beginners.

Download the Yoast WordPress Plugin

Presuming that your blog is based on WordPress, download and install the Yoast plugin. No need to pay for the premium version – the free version of Yoast is more than enough.

SEO Beginners Guide Yoast Logo
Yoast Plugin is a SEO Essential

This will give you an insight into how well-optimised your pages and blog posts are, according to the keyword you’re targeting on that page (more on this later).

It’ll also give you tips on how readable your content is, such as whether sentences are too long or short, or whether you’re using too much of the passive voice in your writing. 

Yoast is really cool, and a must-have for getting started with SEO.

Target One Keyword Per Page

Contrary to the name, a keyword is barely ever just a single word but a phrase that users search for.

Look at your search history. You’ll notice that you’ve probably not used full sentences, instead typing ‘best UK book bloggers’ vs ‘who are the best UK book bloggers’.

You’ll want to try and include these (relevant) keywords in every blog post or book review you write. You should begin by using the Yoast plugin to focus on one specific keyword that gets a lot of search volume.

SEO Beginners Guide People Also Asked

To refer back to the Dune example from earlier in this SEO Beginners Guide (see what I did there? Keyword!), your keyword might simply be ‘Dune Book Review’. However, there are plenty of other ways keywords you could use.  

To find new keywords, look for topics that users are searching for on Google. How do you find these? Well, check out the ‘people also ask’ section that pops up every time you do a search. These are hot topics people are asking, so you might want to include the question and your own answer in your blog post.

You can also use Google’s own free Keyword Planner. To use this properly, simply click ‘discover new keywords’. There’s a lot of information thrown at you on this screen, but to keep things simple, just pay attention to the Keyword Ideas and Avg. Monthly Searches columns.

You’ll notice that Dune book review is getting 480 searches per month (not bad), whereas Dune reviews is getting over 22,000. This might lead you to use ‘dune reviews’ as your keyword. 

SEO Beginners Guide Keyword Planner

The problem here is that people may come to your site expecting a review of the movie, and then leave immediately once they realise it isn’t relevant, which can impact your SEO.

You’re always best to target relevant keywords to avoid this happening.

Optimise One Page at a Time

It’s worth knowing that Google ranks your website based on your pages, not your domain.

What this means is that pages are ranked according to their keyword, rather than your entire site. This means that if you work hard to optimise one really great piece of content, you can get that blog post to appear high in Google’s ranking.

SEO Beginners Guide Yoast
Assess optimisation with Yoast's SEO analysis

With this in mind, pick a blog post you would like to rank in Google (ideally start with one that already gets a good amount of views).

Once you’ve picked a page you want to optimise for Google, do some keyword research (as noted above) and pick one high quality keyword.

Once you’ve chosen this keyword, enter it into your Yoast plugin on the blog post you’ve chosen to optimise. Follow the instructions that the Yoast plugin gives you (readability is less important) until the icon at the top goes green.

For more information on how to use the plugin, check out Yoast’s Beginners Guide to SEO and pay particular attention to the section on Keyword Focus.

Good Site Structure

Is your content easy to find?

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to access every single page and blog post on your website within three clicks. This is much harder to achieve with a large corporate website, but with a blog, this should be perfectly doable.

You might start by having separate pages or categories for your blog posts/book reviews/author interviews, with links to these respective pages/filters in your navigation menu at the top of your website.

Take a look at how Tales from Absurdia is structured. There is always a nav bar at the top of each page, with links to each of my main types of posts, but on my homepage, I also include visual cues that link to each of these (blogs, book reviews, interviews).

SEO Beginners Guide Site Navigation

If it’s easy for humans to find all of your content, it’ll be much easier for Google’s web crawling bots to find your content – and therefore your website!

Try to avoid putting all of your unfiltered content as a stream on your homepage – it’s confusing, bad for SEO, and hard for readers to find your older articles.

Proper Image Filenames and Alt Tags

Don’t upload images named F222hf[dnfioff.jpg.

Filenames are a useful indicator to Google what exactly your article relates to (and don’t forget – Google Image Search is a thing!). Random letters and numbers will not appear in anybody’s image search.

Try and include your keyword in your filename, as long as it makes sense.

Also – please use alt tags. Not only are they signifiers for Google, they’re an essential accessibility for visually impaired internet users. Don’t leave them blank!

Good Blog Post Structure

As discussed before, proper structuring of your blog is good for users and it’s good for Google. This advice also applies to the way you present your blog posts.

Ever see those H1/H2/H3/e.t.c tags whilst writing your blogs?

Well, they have a function beyond making your text bigger or smaller. In fact, they’re an important means of structuring your blog posts for Google’s web crawler.

They stand for Heading 1, Heading 2 (and so on). 

Think of them in a pyramid structure, with H1 (your title) at the top, and the subsequent H2/H3s fanning out as additional topical subheadings.

Content King H1-H6 SEO Advice

In short, H-tags give your blog post a digital skeleton, functioning as lightning rods to Google, stating exactly what your page topic is about. You’ll want to include your keywords, and keyword variations, in these.

There are various opinions amongst SEO experts as to what difference H2/H3/H4 tags make, but one thing is certain – never have more than one H1 on your page.

A H1 should only ever be your title, and any additional H1s will have an actively negative impact on your blog’s visibility.

Get Links to your Website

When someone links to your website – especially another blogger with high domain authority – it’s a signal to Google that your content is a) trusted; and b) contains value. Therefore, it’s in your interest to get as many backlinks as possible.

Backlinks is simply the SEO shorthand for when another website links to your domain (blog/website).

Participating in social media-led ‘book tags’ is a great way for book bloggers to do this. If you aren’t familiar with book tags, they’re essentially chain blogs that work on a particular theme. The Create Your Own Fellowship Book Tag is a particularly cool one I took part in last year, whereby I picked a book to represent each member of the fellowship in The Lord of the Rings. 

At the end of a book tag, you tag an additional 5-10 bloggers by linking to their websites, and then ask them to produce a post of their own, tagging you in their response.

Book tags are a great way to share book recommendations, engage in fandoms, and – of course – get those backlinks. 

Next time you’re on social media, see if anyone is currently working on a book tag and ask to get involved. Or even better – start one of your own. If it goes viral, every single book tag blog post will include a link back to your blog!

But Don’t Neglect Internal Linking!

Internal linking, i.e. linking to other pages and blog posts on your website is also crucial. After all, it makes navigation easier for both humans and Google’s web crawling bots.

For example, if you’re writing up a monthly ‘in review’ blog post about everything you read and reviewed this month, include links to each and every review you posted. This will help readers find your original review, but it’ll also create a skeleton of your website for Google to crawl more easily.

Always use internal links.

Two BIG SEO No-Nos (never do these)

Never do any of the following two things. Your site will get penalised, and in the case of the latter, you may even get struck off of Google.

1) Don’t Over-Optimise Keywords

So, you’ve found some amazing keywords and can’t wait to optimise your article. Do not use them more often than what Yoast recommends – this is called keyword stuffing and is considered to be spam.

Keyword stuffing makes content read in an unnatural way, and is therefore terrible for the user experience. But Google’s algorithm will also spot this and knock you down the rankings, harming your reputation.

2) Never buy backlinks

This is something that, if you’re a hobby blogger, you’d never even consider doing.

Still, don’t buy backlinks, or trade with others en masse, under any circumstances. This is known as black hat SEO and will get you delisted from Google if you get caught out.

Book tags are not counted as trading backlinks as far as I am aware, as they have a role in the sharing of creative work. 

In short, don’t do trade-for-trade backlinks and don’t buy them – it’s a rubbish thing to do, especially when doing it for free is so simple, and will only cause harm.

Does SEO cost anything?

No. Absolutely nothing. 

Part of the reason businesses hire SEO experts is because, beyond wages, search engine optimisation can be done for comparatively cheap. It is, however, a highly skilled role.

Obviously, there are some amazing paid tools out there to help track search engine visibility, make suggestions, and monitor your keywords, but these are for more commercial purposes.

If you’re running a hobby blog, simply stick to the tips in this article – all free – and you’ll be on your way to ranking on Google!

Is SEO Worth it?

Absolutely – if you’re willing to put the time in.

If you’re a book blogger, the majority of your traffic probably comes from social media, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or more. The same applies if you’re a blogger in any other niche.

But these views are reliant on you posting every day – and it’s easy to get burnt out on social media quite quickly. 

In any case, if you’re a blogger, you’re likely doing it for free and (hopefully) for enjoyment and social media burnout is not fun.

So, ideally you’d like to get more blog views without having to do a thing?* This is where SEO comes in.

It’s worth bearing in mind that SEO isn’t an overnight ‘one-and-done’ sort of job. It’s not something you do, and then the views roll in. It must be a part of your weekly blogging routine. Every post you write should be written with it in mind.

*SEO is not a substitute for social media and your SEO can actually improve with increased use of social. It’s just another tool to drive traffic to your website.

SEO Beginners Guide FAQ

Search Engine Optimisation is the formatting of content in a manner that appeals to a search engine’s algorithm.

Increased organic traffic from Google, without having to rely on social media, or pay for ads.

Hard to say. If you’re running an established website that fluctuates in rankings, then minor changes can lead to increased rankings in only a couple of weeks.

As a new blog, Tales from Absurdia took about 10 months to start achieving regular organic traffic. Your experience, and the time you have to dedicate to SEO, will bring this forward or push it back.

Evergreen topics are perfect. These are blog posts that are not time-sensitive and therefore don’t age.

An example of this might be a ‘How to’ guide or tutorial.

Adding to evergreen topics over time and updating them can lead to some really impressive SEO results – if it’s a piece that provides value to the reader.

Listicles (‘7 amazing ways….’) always perform well on social media too – and they typically only require minor tweaks over the years. BuzzFeed does listicles very successfully, so check some of their articles out.

One thing I’ve learned over the years, and as I’ve become a better writer, is that you don’t need to choose between writing fluid, 

well-written content and writing SEO articles for Google.

There’s a happy middle-ground where it reads well AND hits all the right notes for a successful ranking on Google!

Got any questions? Find my SEO Beginners Guide helpful? Drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you 👇

Wordle Tips and Tricks | The Ultimate Guide for New Players

So, you’ve tried Wordle; the latest web-based game that’s become a viral hit on Twitter.

Perhaps you’re just getting started, or maybe (like me) you’re completely addicted. Regardless, here are some essential Wordle tips and tricks that’ll help solve your daily challenge.

Got any tips of your own? Stick them down in the comments below 👇

1) Choose your first word carefully

Your first attempt can make or break your entire Wordle run. Putting in a random word is purely pot-luck, and you might not even get any letters.

Ideally, pick a word with three or more unique vowels. This will almost always yield a letter, helping your subsequent attempts.

Audio is an ideal word because it covers every vowel except E. Another option might be Adieu. You can use a Scrabble tool to find more.

Try not to use a word that repeats vowels, because it’ll use up a potential slot for another letter.

2) Understand the Prompts

This is a simple tip.

Upon entering a guess, you’ll be greeted by three results – yellow, green, and grey. 

Green means you’ve guessed a letter in the correct part of the word. Yellow means the letter is included in the word, but in a different place. Meanwhile, grey means that letter is not part of the word.

3) Use the on-screen keyboard

For our next Wordle tip, we’ll be looking at the keyboard.

You’ll notice that letters on your keyboard reflect the colours on your main Wordle board. 

Helpfully, the remaining letters that you’re yet to try remain highlighted in a light grey. Look at these on your subsequent attempts and see which letters would help make a word, based on the letters you’ve already correctly guessed.

And of course… never use a dark grey letter – you’ve already tried that one!

4) Letters can be used more than once

Whilst you’ll want to avoid using multiples of the same letter in your first couple of guesses, it’s worth knowing that Wordle allows you to use the same letter more than once (after all, many words contain duplicate letters!)

Try and prevent yourself from using these until you’re reasonably certain that there’s a duplicate letter.

5) Take your time

Wordle doesn’t need to be a quick game. After all, we only get one word every 24 hours, so do take your time.

Pay attention to the letters you’ve used, and especially those remaining.

Taking your time with Wordle will actually enable you to guess correctly in a far shorter number of turns.

6) Play on the same device

Wordle is a browser game, so it saves your progress based on cookies installed on your device.

If you play on another device, your beloved winning streaks will not carry over. Also, if you delete your cookies, you’ll lose your stats and progress.

So, in an ideal world, pick a device (typically your mobile) and stick with it.

However, because it’s prudent to delete cookies every now and again to save space on your device, you may wish to set up an exemption for the Wordle website. 

Click or tap one of the icons below to do this.

Manage Cookies in Edge

Manage Cookies in Chrome

Manage Cookies in FireFox

Manage Cookies in Safari

These tips should help you get started with Wordle. If I’ve missed any obvious Wordle tips and tricks, do let me know in the comments below!

Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham Book Review

Winterset Hollow Book Review Blog Banner

Winterset Hollow is a novel about a novel called Winterset Hollow.

Sound confusing? Don’t worry – it isn’t. 

Jonathan Edward Durham’s debut novel is, however, a fascinating blend of genres.

Dark fantasy meets metafiction, whilst whimsical children’s fiction meets slasher. The result of this rather outlandish experiment is a remarkable piece of fiction that sticks long in the memory.

Winterset Hollow

It’s Barley Day on Addington Isle – an isolated private island where reclusive author Edward Addington, the author once resided. Winterset Hollow, a popular in-text fictional novel, was once written by Addington and has since acquired a cult following.

Adored in particular by Eamon, our protagonist, and a plucky group of teenagers (as is customary), they plan a trip to the island to celebrate the novel, and commemorate its mercurial author.

But like all good horror tales, the euphoria of our emboldened cast of impressionable youths is short-lived, with things going south rapidly, and rather spectacularly.

Barley Day is, after all, a day of feasting, hunting, and extravagant celebrations. But this time, the anthropomorphised animals of Addington’s tale – Flaxwell Frog, Bing Bear, Finn Fox, and Runny Rabbit (amongst others) – are out for revenge, revolting against their own author, and its readership.

It’s as if Beatrix Potter’s merry cast of creatures developed a predilection for torture and violence. Disturbing, but admittedly a lot of fun.

A Horror Classic with Literary Merit

Despite its slasher elements, Winterset Hollow remains literary in its pretensions. It’s well written, explores metafictional ideas of authorhood, and challenges the morality & ethics of our own contemporary society.

The novel also utilises some fascinating meta-elements, not least by including a novel of the same name within the text. 

It’s clever, without being complex or gimmicky, and serves as a prism through which we, as readers, judge our own actions. The inversion of animals hunting humans being the most obvious social and ethical commentary.

Whereas the humans in the novel range from plot meat bags to endearing and relatable, Durham’s creature-characters are all a genuine thrill and the true highlight of the novel. 

Donny Darko Winterset Hollow Meme
The visual equivalent of reading Winterset Hollow

Lovingly detailed, Durham breathes genuine life into the full horror of Addington’s complex menagerie.

Consider the names Runny Rabbit and Bing Bear, for example. They conjure an image of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon; plush, friendly, and easy-going creatures. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth – these animals are cunning, gruesome, and violent.

And yet, they’re also extraordinarily charismatic, with motives that extend beyond a mere love of killing. Some, in fact, resent it entirely. Their behaviours, masochistic in practice, are underpinned by complex, albeit jilted, moral justifications.

This makes for a fascinating and thoughtful read.


Winterset Hollow is a truly unique novel. Blending the twee with the macabre, Durham has produced a delightfully dark fantasy that thrills.

The setting of Addington Manor is dripping with detail; it’s halls sinister and lonely. This level of rich detail is lightning in a bottle for any author, and Durham excels at it.

The characters are fantastic, for the most part, with Addington’s creatures shining the brightest. Eamon serves as a serviceable protagonist, whilst his companions aren’t quite so memorable. On the other hand, Finn Fox is a real standout. Creepy, unpredictable, and highly unnerving, he’s a persistent foil to the protagonists.

There are some minor pacing issues, mind. What begins as a slow burner, quickly pivots into an action frenzy and never really slows down. Revelations are made that perhaps deserved more time and consideration, but instead struggle to properly surface amidst the gluttony of action.

Some readers won’t mind this, however – especially because the novel is tremendously fun, and the writing remains of a very high quality.

A lot of love and attention has gone into Winterset Hollow, and it shows. It’s a fantastic debut effort, and I’d strongly encourage my readers to add this to their TBR lists – especially with it being available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme.


Winterset Hollow is available at Amazon in both paperback and eBook.

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Why Holden Caulfield is So Misunderstood

Holden Caulfield Catcher in the Rye is So Misunderstood Blog Header
Holden Caulfield Catcher in the Rye is So Misunderstood Blog Header

There are historically two schools of thought when it comes to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye

People either detest him and everything he stands for, or they love him. 

Often, this is tied to when one reads Salinger’s novel for the first time. Read it in your teens and you’ll likely relate to Holden. Read it in adulthood, and one becomes less sympathetic.

This is perhaps a little reductive, but it does tend to be the general trend.

As a figuratively paid up member of the Holden Caulfield Appreciation Society – along with my friend and podcaster Lucy Kikuchi, I’m going to tell you why Holden’s haters are dead wrong.

Why do people hate Holden Caulfield?

Bit of a history lesson.

When The Catcher in the Rye was published, it was a highly controversial book. The constant cussing and ‘taking the lord’s name in vain’ led to it being banned in certain parts of America.

Holden is a rebel. He claims to see through the insincerity and inauthenticity of adult society, branding people around him ‘phonies’ – even people who perhaps don’t deserve such a description.

Holden is immature, hypocritical, unbelievably cynical, and even a little misogynistic. Whilst it would be harsh to label him an incel, he does possess certain similar characteristics with today’s online movement.

This makes him enemies.

“But, hang on John, you’re meant to be batting for this guy” I hear you protest. What exactly are his redeeming features?

The Truth About Holden Caulfield

There are two strands to Holden Caulfield that are often overlooked, or at least not acknowledged as much as they ought to be. These are grief and the loss of innocence.

Unresolved grief permeates The Catcher in the Rye. Holden’s grief is for his late brother Allie, whom he tends to bring up periodically – usually when he’s depressed. 

Breaking off from his current situation, Holden goes on extended monologues about Allie in nostalgic, almost reverent terms. These moments are where the close reader begins to understand the vulnerability of Salinger’s protagonist, in spite of his prickly demeanour.

The loss of Allie is also linked to Holden’s loss of innocence. Death focuses the mind, and anyone who has ever lost a friend or family member at a young age will have felt that vacuum of justice, and complete bereftness.

Meanwhile, Holden constantly rejects the sexual awakening of himself, and of others. 

Jane, a friend of his when he was younger, whom Holden was rather attracted to in a maternal sense, goes on a date with his roommate Stradlater.

Stradlater’s cool, confident exterior is everything Holden isn’t. Holden fears he’ll ‘put the moves’ on Jane and ‘getting off’ with her – something he’s obsessed with preventing in order to not sully his memory of Jane in more innocent times.

Holden seemingly suffers a mental breakdown towards the end of the novel, after a controversial exchange with an old teacher, Mr Antolini. Desperate for help, he seeks out Mr Antolini – a teacher who understood Holden and one he felt safe with. Antolini allows him to stay for the night, but upon waking up to find Antolini stroking his head, Holden implies to the reader that Antolini is a sexual abuser and flees. The truth of this isn’t established, with Holden a highly unreliable narrator.

With not even Antolini to rely on, Holden Caulfield is lost. You’ll notice that I’ve neglected to mention his parents. Their absence, emotionally and physically in the novel, is palpable. Even the biggest critic of Caulfield has to at least empathise with this.

Holden Caulfield is, in my view, a tragic hero. A massively flawed, but nonetheless affable and loveable character who must be protected at all costs.

What the Catcher in the Rye is Actually About

The band Keane once wrote a song called Everybody’s Changing. It’s a great song. Here’s a brief extract from the chorus:

So little time
Try to understand that I'm
Trying to make a move just to stay in the game
I try to stay awake and remember my name
But Everybody's Changing, and I don't feel the same

You're gone from here
Soon you will disappear, fading into beautiful light
'Cause Everybody's Changing, and I don't feel right

And this song pretty much sums up Holden Caulfield’s experience.

That period in one’s life – the transition from childhood to young adulthood – the teenage years if you will, is a painful period. Certainties and securities one can rely on are unceremoniously stripped away, the simplicities of friendship give way to external social pressures, and people change, sometimes for the worse. These are the real growing pains.

Holden summons an image in the novel of children playing in rye fields beside a cliff. As the children fall off, he catches them – a metaphor for rescuing them from a loss of innocence. He’s obsessed with being the ‘catcher in the rye’, but ultimately, he cannot protect everyone. 

Growing up is an inevitability but this isn’t acceptable to Holden. This manifests itself in grief over the loss of innocence, both for himself, his peers, and the younger people around him such as his little sister Phoebe.

How do you feel about Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye
Love him? Hate him? Bit of both? Let me know below 👇