Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Catcher and the Rye

My grandchildren know that I am interested in what they are reading.  I got this e-mail from Ellen, 15, living in Michigan.

Hey Nana,
   I was wondering if you had a copy of The Catcher and Rye and if you do, if I could borrow it. We are reading it for our summer reading project and using it throughout the first half of the school year.
Ellen B.

I did not have the book, but I quickly bought it and read it before sending it to her.
I have read many classics and can think of dozens of great choices for grade twelve students to read.  But this????

"The Catcher In the Rye" by J.D. Salinger

This novel was published in 1951- before I was a teenager!
It is popular with adolescents because of the themes of teenage angst and rebellion.  It has been translated into almost every language in the world and has sold more than 65 million books.  it is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.
But...this book is also one of the most frequently challenged books.  In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States.  Now isn't that interesting?
It is challenged because of the vulgar language, sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values, encouragement of rebellion, promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, promiscuity, etc.  Wow!  sounds like the ideal book for grade eleven.
In addition, several shootings have been associated with the novel -notably the killing of John Lennon.  Mark Chapman was arrested with a copy of the book that he had purchased that day, inside which he had written, "To Holden Caulfield, From Holden Caulfield, this is my statement". (wikipedia)

In 2009, Salinger successfully sued to stop the publication of a novel that shows Holden Caulfield as an old man.  However, this book eventually was published.  It is called "60 Years later; Coming through the Rye" by Fredrik Colting.
Amazon gives this plot line:
"A 76-year-old man wakes up in a nursing home in upstate New York. This seemingly normal day brings with it an unnerving compulsion to flee his present situation and embark on a curious journey through the streets of New York City. Powerless to resist these strange new urges, Holden Caulfield, like a decrepit marionette, finds himself in the midst of bizarre and occasionally depraved escapades. Is senility finally closing in or is some higher power controlling the chaos? 60 years after his debut as the great American anti-hero, Holden Caulfield is yanked back onto the page without a goddamn clue why."

And I don't have a g.d. clue as to why "Catcher in the Rye" was chosen for my granddaughter's class to study.  I can't wait to hear her reaction. 

Here's my objection:  Football coaches don't show their players videos of the worst plays in football.  Music teachers do not play the worst music.  Art teachers do not focus on terrible art.
So why would we want teenagers to read about the worst teenage experiences?  Why not aim for something good?  Why not a book that shows the protagonist working through his teenage angst and becoming a valuable member of society?

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