Have You Read This Book?
In an essay on the Good Magazine website, Anne Trubek wonders aloud why high school teachers continue to put The Catcher in the Rye on their syllabi:
Why is The Catcher in the Rye still a rite of high school English? Sure, J.D. Salinger’s novel was edgy and controversial when teachers first put it on their syllabi. But that was 50 years ago. Today, Salinger’s novel lacks the currency or shock value it once had, and has lost some of its critical cachet. But it is still ubiquitously taught even though many newer novels of adolescence are available.She goes on to recommend some updated options for teachers looking to fill the "adolescent novel" slot on their reading list, including The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Drown by Junot Diaz.
In the comments, people are (mostly) upbraiding her for being either irrelevant (arguing that nobody teaches Salinger anymore) or just plain wrong. I'm curious to hear where Vroman's readers are on the subject. I haven't read The Catcher in the Rye since high school, but I will gladly cop to being a big Salinger fan back in the day. I preferred his short stories to his novels, but I had a high opinion of The Catcher in the Rye at the time, for sure. But then I hadn't read so many of the books I would call my favorites yet, either.
It seems to me that The Catcher in the Rye was a carrot in high school, something to get you moving as a reader, a gateway drug, so to speak (In this analogy, I suppose something like Tess of the D'Urbervilles would be the "stick"). I wonder if it still serves its purpose today. Something that Trubek didn't address in her essay is the rise of young adult literature as a powerful force. With Harry Potter, Twilight, the Inheritance series, and other popular books making major inroads with young readers at an age before they might encounter it, do we still need The Catcher in the Rye to hook readers? I realize that young adult literature, in the form of Robert Cormier and others, existed before Harry Potter, but it wasn't the same. Sure, you could dig a library-bound paperback of The Chocolate War out of the shelves at your school library (if it wasn't banned), but I don't remember anybody camping out outside a bookstore to buy it.
I'm not terribly interested in whether people think Salinger's novel is good or not--I'm too far removed to make any kind of real judgement--but I am intersted in hearing from teachers, school librarians, and fellow readers about what books should be taught in high school these days. Is Trubek right or does The Catcher in the Rye still have a place in the American high school syllabus?