Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?

“It’s so punk rock.”

This, coming from me, is one of the most hilarious things because while I love punk music I have always been the furthest thing from “punk.”

Now, my friend Chris, whom I’ve known since we were four and teaches freshman English on Long Island? He knows punk. Me? I learned to play the piano so I could play Billy Joel songs.

So like I said, the word “punk” coming from me–a bald, slightly overweight, 35-year-old English teacher–seems more hilarious than anything, even though in my mind it’s true because I was describing one of my favorite novels of all time, The Catcher in the Rye. [My friend Laura, who hates J.D. Salinger, just slammed her head into her keyboard] I had been talking about banned books week in class the other day and brought up the many times the book has been challenged or removed over the years because of its language or themes (one of my favorites was a district in Texas that preemptively removed the look because they just didn’t want to idea with it), and gave a quick overview of it, saying that in many ways it is the original modern day teen rebellion story.

Sure, Holden Caulfield is a whiny rich prep school kid, and this takes place in the early 1950s so it doesn’t have anything to do with 21st Century Skills, but as I have positive before, when there are so many tropes in literature and popular culture, it helps to explore where they come from. Unfortunately, I don’t get to explore it too much more than recommending it to my students because it’s on the eleventh grade and not the tenth grade curriculum.

And I have to admit that I’m a little peeved by that because I know that if I had the chance, I would teach the shit out of that book. the most I have ever been able to do with it is read it about six times and discuss it here and there with former students. If I did get to teach The Catcher in the Rye, I’d probably start with the statement that began this post. I know that Salinger’s novel is a little more suited to the jazz of the time, but i spent my formative years feasting on John Hughes movies and ’90s alternative, metal, and punk music (well, when I wasn’t playing selections from The Stranger), so as I read the book, I can hear The Ramones, The Replacements, Green Day … which aren’t all 1990s but you know what I’m getting at. In other words, it would be kind of the culmination of what is a running joke between me and a couple of my students–I connect every piece of literature to movies or music.

But in a way, that’s what makes literature like this survive, the fact that there is no adaptation helps The Catcher in the Rye more than any other “watch the movie” exercise could. There’s no set visual or audio to accompany it means the novel’s open to a certain amount of interpretation and even though Salinger would be pissed at my saying it, that kind of makes Holden belong to the reader. Sure, he wrote the words but our getting into his head and then putting him into our is what makes him just as relevant as any of the copies–from Jim Start to John Bender–that he inspired.


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