There has been a lot of fresh talk in the news about the law suit filed by J.D. Salinger’s lawyers concerning a new book entitled, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, a take off (or rip-off) of The Catcher in the Rye. 60 Years Later is a novel written by a young Swedish writer styling himself J.D. California.
In The New York Times on Sunday, June 21, 2009, there was a short piece in the Ideas & Trends page on how today’s young readers see the famous Holden Caulfield as a “whining preppy, not as a virtuous outcast” while Harry Potter is a nerd conqueror who “wins out over a smirking malcontent.” Teenagers today would rather read about Harry than Holden.
First off, in terms of literature there is no connection between Harry Potter of Hogwarts and Holden Caulfield of Pencey Prep. JK Rowling’s books are for children (and those who think like children) and wish to escape into fantasy land. Catcher is a book that features an alienated teenager, written for adults. It is a serious book written by a serious writer.
Catcher was also a book that caught the mood and the time of teenagers, whether they go to prep schools or not. It is a book that matters, and has mattered for generations of readers. Rowling doesn’t matter, like romance writer Nora Roberts doesn’t matter, though both novelists have sold more books than J.D. Salinger ever will. Still, Catcher sells all of these years later about 100,000 paperback copies a year. Sold, I’m sure, because high school teachers influenced by this book when they were young want the next generaton to know what real writing is all about.
Today’s kids, according to the Times article, aren’t buying this line of thinking. Teachers across the country sing the same sad song. “Holden Caulfield is supposed to be this paradigmatic teenager we can all relate to, but we don’t really speak t his way or talk about these things,” says Ariel Levenson, and English teacher at the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Out in Winnetka, Illinois, Julie Johnson, who has taught Salinger for three decades at New Trier High School, says, “Holden’s passivity is especially galling and perplexing to many present-day students.”
Great writing has seasons. I remember in the late ’60s you couldn’t find a copy of Fitzgerld’s The Great Gatsby and then Zelda by Nancy Milford was published and suddenly everyone was reading Gatsby again. And have been reading it ever since.
Faulkner wasn’t in print in 1946 when Malcolm Cowley brought out The Portable Faulkner and introduced Faulkner to a new generation of readers, as well as the academic world that has kept his writing alive all these years.
Catcher was published in 1951. I still have my high school copy published by Signet in paperback. It sold back then for $.50 and had this cover line on the bright red jacket: This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart–but you will never forget it.
I never have.