Friday, January 29, 2010

Catcher in the Rye

I first read Catcher in the Rye in high school--not as an assigned reading, but just one of many I read for pleasure. I didn't know then that it was controversial. I do remember choosing to write a lit paper in college on Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Every subsequent reading of the novel--and yes, it is one of the few books I choose to re-read every once in a while--was in response to someone else's reading. Right out of college, I worked with a friend who either had to read the novel in college or picked it up himself, but he wanted me to read it again so he could talk about it.

Three or four years ago, I had a group of AP English students who actually asked for outside reading assignments. The books were optional and usually chosen arbitrarily by my colleague and me, and our discussions were held before or after school, sometimes on campus and other times at local coffee shops. Our first selection was Catcher in the Rye, and once again, it had stood the test of time.

Over the years, I have picked up all the quirky references--the guy who shot John Lennon and the one who shot Reagan, too, I believe, had copies on them--or at least made allusions. The obsessive Mel Gibson character in one of his movies called a copy around with him. I also knew, having read the book Shoeless Joe before it was made into the movie Field of Dreams, that James Earl Jones' character in the movie was J. D. Salinger in the movie.

I'll also admit that, having read Joyce Maynard before I ever knew her unusual relationship to Salinger when she was still quite young (and half his age), I did pick up her memoirs on tape awhile back--only to find that the last tape was in German instead of English. I met her after that at one of the NCTE conferences, and I found her quite warm and charming. We did not, however, discuss her days with ol' J.D.

I have to admit that while I wish he'd gone on to write more, I respect his right not to be a public figure--even to fight to keep his privacy. One doesn't have to look beyond page 2 of the newspaper to see what happens when one becomes a celebrity. I do hope he has a masterpiece or two squirreled away that his family will feel compelled to share with the world. Who knows-- maybe Harper Lee will get some ideas too.

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