J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye (and ramblings about banned books)

I first read J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye when I was sixteen and I’ve been cussing like a sailor ever since.

No, I haven’t.  I’m just kidding. (Really – I don’t).  But in honor of Banned Book week, I thought I would reread it.  It’s been a long time since I was sixteen and I was curious whether the novel would hold up as well now that I’m an adult – and a much older adult.  I have teenagers of my own, now.  I even read the same copy that I had bought at a Walden’s Bookstore when  I was sixteen.

The Catcher in the Rye

I think my passion for being free to read the books that I want to read comes from having read a few books like The Catcher in the Rye that are surrounded by controversy.  When I read them, I found the novels to be significantly deeper than their critics gave them credit. Sometimes the expression “missing the forest for the trees” comes to mind when I hear why some would want to ban books.  For some reason, when I was sixteen, I could see passed the profanity to find the character of Holden Caulfield and Salinger’s writing style fascinating.

In the case of Salinger’s novel, the protagonist was the same age as myself when I read it the first time.  I have no doubt that much of the novel’s ability to resonate with people has to do with the fact that we were all teenagers once – struggling to figure out our place in the world when the world doesn’t always seem to make sense.  I remembered Holden’s siblings D.B., a writer in Hollywood, and Phoebe, grabbing for the gold ring on the carousel.  I didn’t even remotely remember that he had a younger brother, Allie, who had died.  All these years later, Holden’s attempts to deal with his brother’s death brought a new sense of depth to his musings.

I’ve been thinking about books that high school students read.  The Catcher in the Rye may or may not still be on the reading lists, but, in my opinion, it’s a novel that has all the makings of great literature in a way that allows teenagers to relate to it.  I recently read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and discovered it to be fantastic; however, I don’t think I would have had the appreciation for the story and Eliot’s writing when I was sixteen.  I’m not  sure I would have been able to put forth the effort to read it the way I could now that I’m a more mature reader.

I’m probably rambling as much as Holden does in the novel.  One of his traits that I’ve remembered over the years is his dislike of movies.  When I was a teenager and even for most of my adulthood, I’ve enjoyed movies, but in recent years, I’ve discovered that I’ve become less and less interested in them.  I was a little surprised that this gave me more of an affinity with Holden than even when I was a teenager.

And I can’t finish this post without a few words about the banning of books.  I fully support the right of parents to monitor what their kids read – especially younger kids.  At the same time, when I think about how much I enjoyed Salinger’s story (and it was the story I enjoyed, the profanity was part of Holden’s character – but it wasn’t the story), I can’t imagine not letting my  16 or 17 year-old read The Catcher in the Rye.  I’m grateful to my public high school for including this and some other banned books on our reading list. Nobody was forced to read these books, but they were available for anyone who wanted to. I believe in the freedom to read and I believe in the freedom not to read.  I’m fairly comfortable in my ability to make that decision for myself.  I don’t need any “governing body” making it for me.

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