Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Honor of J.D. Salinger

The one and only time I read The Catcher in the Rye was in high school. I was in Mr. Walchanowicz's sophomore English class. The 15 or so of us in that class were the only ones in the school who got to read it. The rest of the 10th grade had some other teacher. Mrs. Whoever – I don't remember her name. But her reading list was awful. That class spent time slowly reading Julius Caeser aloud in class while we were mulling over The Crucible and Antigone and Catcher. Being randomly selected for Mr. Walchanowicz's class was one of the luckiest things that happened to me that year.

I won't say I was some disillusioned, disaffected adolescent for whom The Catcher in the Rye was some kind godsend. I personally didn't get Catcher. I still don't really, though I realize it is brilliant and different and new, even by today's standards. It just didn't resonate with me, even though I had seen enough of the world to know that most people were horrible phonies and that adults never knew what was really going on. I guess I was a happy child, even a happy high schooler, if there is such a thing. So it didn't make sense to me that Holden Caulfield was so angry about everything, about the state of the world. I was angry too, but I wasn't going to fall to pieces about it. Now, as an adult, I see that that is just the way of some people.

I didn't love Catcher, but I loved getting to read it. I was told that the book was the second most taught in high schools around America, and so I wondered why the little group of us were the only ones getting into this large literary club. Why was it a "banned book" in some areas? Why wasn't it on the 10th grade curriculum? Why didn't everyone else get to revel in the glory of Holden discovering the word "fuck" written on that wall? Hmmm... maybe that was why. When we came to that passage at the end of the story, Mr. Walchanowicz informed us that he thought we were mature enough to discuss it like adults. So we proceeded to have a conversation about what we had read without ever uttering the word aloud. Though, I presume, if we had, there would have been no recourse.

When my mother saw me reading the book at home one evening as homework, she said to me, "That's my favorite book. You'll have to let me read it again when you're finished." I didn't know what to say. I was not the kind of person who liked The Catcher in the Rye, but, as it turned out, my mother was. She never really told me why she loved the book so much, and I never asked. I only formed quiet mental pictures of her as a brooding, disillusioned teenager, and compared that to the woman she had become.

These are the little things I remember about The Catcher in the Rye and being 15 and high school. The book did not change my world, but it did give me a whole handful of little moments that did. These are the moments that make reading a joy and an adventure. Thank you, J.D. Salinger, for what you wrote, and what you gave so many of us in so many different ways.

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