My all-time favorite author changed my life in several ways. Here are seven aspects of those changes. What was this amazing artifact from the 50s that still lives in the minds of many literary buffs and other sensitive souls? It’s J. D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN RYE, a remarkable book. I will reveal how Salinger’s sensational novel spoke to me from bottom to top, as in 7 to 1:
7. On the cover of the novel that I initially read in paperback form had what seemed like an impossible promise written by the publishers. It seemed like pure hyperbole, but it would either be true or false for me as a teen reader: “This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart–but you will never forget it.”
6. A book that socks you with some of its words doesn’t necessarily make it a “bad” book. The novel was banned in certain areas of the country for words such as “crap” and so on. Secondly, Salinger also dealt with teen sexuality. Nonetheless, he wrote the way teens spoke and issues that they cared about.
5. Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old wandering around New York City, is the protagonist who lies, drinks, and doesn’t do well in school. He frequently calls people “phonies” because they don’t live according to his standards. But we aren’t sure what Holden’s standards are as we journey through his inner world. He seems very confused, conflicted, and angry at life itself, but how come? Will he get better?
4. How come teens like Holden so much if he seems to lack moral fiber? Should he be more caring and responsible? Whom, as a teen didn’t bend the rules and rebel to a certain degree? Who didn’t at times do exactly what our parents didn’t want us to do? At times whose moods didn’t swing wildly back and forth? Whose teen journey didn’t mirror Holden’s in some ways in terms of rebellion? For over six decades Holden has been a troubled teen that most teens come to identify with and understand, especially when they turn the last page
3. Why did we probably wish Holden an easy route to adulthood as he travels through New York City? In J. D. Salinger’s hands, we are immensely sympathetic to his coming of age challenges. We are constantly rooting for this tall, thin young man with a big heart. He worries about where the ducks in Central Park go in the wintertime. He’s obsessed with his little sister Phoebe, and he puts her on a mental pedestal, not wanting anything bad to happen to her. He hates to say “good-bye.” He is nervous about beginnings and endings. He deals better with life’s “middles.”
2. Once he decides to use his sensibilities for the betterment of himself and others, Holden will make the world a better place. Holden needs to put away his rose-colored glasses for children, and his dream of catching children in a field of rye, if they fall from high above. He needs to put on his adult glasses and see that there is good in the worse adults, and bad in the best of us. Becoming an adult isn’t simply seeing the world in black and white. It’s an ocean colored in shades of gray. I can imagine Holden becoming financially successful as an adult, and then in his later years building Non-Phonies State University. (LOL?)
1. Drumroll please: I didn’t like reading until I met Holden. Dick, Sally and Jane were not my friends, but I had to read them in elementary school. I didn’t even like Spot, the dog. I didn’t like the words that spilled out under their starchy illustrations. I struggled to read well in school. (I had invisible friends that were better than I was.) I could memorize the words in the story, but I couldn’t read them word by word. The prominent technique of teaching reading at the time was the “sight and see the strategy.” It didn’t work well for me–a bump in my educational journey the size of Mount Everest.
What did CATCHER IN THE RYE do for me? It transformed me into an avid reader. I wanted to wolf down everything Salinger wrote, and then other authors like Salinger. I devoured all kinds of books. That one classic transformed me as a reader and student. If that didn’t happen, I never would have graduated from college, become a teacher, and then a children’s poet. And I owe it all to Holden Caulfield. Wow! The publishers were right: I never did forget that book! I carry some the dialogue around in my head today such as:
“… I keep picturing this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around- nobody big, I mean- except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff– I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. that’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy… “
I know it’s crazy, but I became a catcher of kids in the classroom. I was particularly good at comforting and inspiring the lost souls to not hate school and to discover their hidden talents. I did it for thirty-three years. Thanks, Holden.