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November 4, 2012 12:02 AM   Subscribe

Is "Catcher In The Rye" outdated and outmoded? Jessica Roake at Slate thinks so. And she's backing the author of "Cloud Atlas" when it comes to the new champion...
posted by dr. zoom (153 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Catcher in the Rye might be one of the worst books I have ever read.

At a time in my life when I would frequently read two or more books per day, it took me several weeks to finally make it to the end. I am still actually upset that it has attained such cultural significance.

I found it breathtakingly awful, juvenile in its existential angst and I remember being deeply offended that my English teacher thought I would like it.

There are so many better books out there.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 12:16 AM on November 4, 2012 [54 favorites]


Well, I read it in a day and thought it was great. So your arbitrary comment that it is "the worst" is subjective, don't you think?
posted by sweetkid at 12:19 AM on November 4, 2012 [24 favorites]


I didn't read it until I was an adult, I liked it but almost as historical fiction. I agree it is extremely dated. For coming of age tales I would assign Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence or Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:24 AM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Hobo did say "I have ever read" clearly signifying a subjective statement.
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 AM on November 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


More like "Clickbait on the Fly" amirite?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:35 AM on November 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


The first three paragraphs of this article already had me cringing in embarassment.

High school students never, ever "treasure" the books that schoolteachers force down their throats. They don't want to be there, hate their teachers, and wish the whole building would die in a fire. I remember thinking that I had a real life to go out and enjoy, if only Mrs. "Battleaxe" Drake would shut up about Christ Figures and whan that Aprill.

And if Usenet discussions of books have taught me one thing, it's that unwilling readers have been loathing Holden Caulfield for half a century. Catcher is not prescribed to English classes because students all love and sympathize with its main character. It's there for the same reason every other text is -- to teach teenagers how to perform the basics of literary analysis, as practiced on the sort of stories they're able to understand without lots of background explanation.

The article's special pleading for Black Swan Green reminds me of those whines about how terrible high school English teachers make kids read Shakespeare. "If they want to teach kids to love reading," the complaint runs, "why not have them read YA bestsellers / Sandman / socially "relevant" problem novels / Daniel Manus Pinkwater ?" The answer to this is: by the later teenage years, the time for teaching kids to love reading is over. The mandatory educational system has got only four more years before they're gone for good, and that's barely enough time to cover the entirety of English-language cultural literacy from Hamlet to symbolism to metrical scansion. Sure, if we could pull adults back into high school English classes at age 30, then it might make sense to leave The Scarlet Letter until then, but we can't, so you're all going to get it now and hopefully it'll last until you're really ready for it.

Of course none of this is an argument for assigning Catcher in the Rye. That one might very well suck. But don't waste everyone's educational time with four years of merely "funny, painfully true, deeply entertaining, and strangely beautiful" books.

(...God damn it, I've turned into old Mrs. "Battleaxe" Drake.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:48 AM on November 4, 2012 [76 favorites]


“People are always ruining things for you.”
posted by chavenet at 12:50 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


why not just have them read twitter people instead

cloud atlas. christ.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:51 AM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


juvenile in its existential angst
How juvenile of this angsty novel about a juvenile to be about juvenile angst.

I never thought it was the best novel ever but I remember really liking it when I read it as a teen, not because it was foisted on me, but because I kind of discovered it on my own. And what struck me about it was that it was sort of a cool time capsule; not THIS IS THE MANIFESTO OF ALL TEEN ANGST EVER, FOR ALL TIME but that, wow, this is so of it's 1940's time but I can find a lot of commonality and relate to much of it.
So that was a cool thing, for me.
My daughter read it in school last year. She liked it.
posted by chococat at 12:55 AM on November 4, 2012 [23 favorites]


And she's backing the author of "Cloud Atlas" when it comes to the new champion...

Yeah but she's backing Black Swan Green, not Cloud Atlas. The framing of this post sets itself up for a mess.
posted by mannequito at 1:02 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing about Catcher in the Rye that I didn't get until the third time I read it is that it's actually black humor and that the novel undercuts all of the supposedly profound angsty stuff that Caulfield says. SPOILER: In the end, it is Holden Caulfield who is the phony.
posted by chrchr at 1:05 AM on November 4, 2012 [37 favorites]


My English teacher, in 1975, at Shades Valley High School in Birmingham, Alabama, would have swallowed razor blades brefore she'd have assigned us Catcher In the Rye to read. You goddam whippersnappers DON'T KNOW HOW GOOD YOU HAD IT to be assigned to read about ol' Holden Caulfield in high school. Now get off my fucking lawn.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:11 AM on November 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yeah, I don't think it is a story of a young man who railed against the injustice of the world and then was stuck in the mental hospital over his refusal to conform. This was a young man who spent the entire book, concocting stories and fabricating. Decrying everyone as phonies was a defense mechanism. It isn't One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest/Dead Poets Society/Beneath The Wheel, the story of the misunderstood crushed by society. This is the story of Salinger's anxiety and fear.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:17 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Incidentally, I hated CitR way before it was cool to do so.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:25 AM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Black Swan Green is a really good book. It's kind of a pity that the article is framed the way it is because it makes everyone argue about the merits of assigning Catcher in school and BSG gets largely ignored since so few people, comparatively, have read it.

That said, if you're arguing about relevancy, I think it's very hard to sell teens on '80s books. Thatcherite England (along with the Falklands War, which I know exactly zero about even after reading BSG) doesn't have the glamor and pre-existing recognition of World War II or the American Civil War, but it has enough cultural references that belong to the murky past to be just mildly disorienting.
posted by Jeanne at 1:27 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


High school students never, ever "treasure" the books that schoolteachers force down their throats.

I thought The Great Gatsby was superb, still incredibly readable more than 60 years after it had been written. And I enjoyed Waiting for Godot quite a bit, superb in its pointlessness. And The Little Prince was weird, but fun to read for French class.

There was plenty of stuff I had no interest in, but every once in awhile, they got something through my armor. :)
posted by Malor at 1:27 AM on November 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


Oh, and I memorized the beginning of The Canterbury Tales. On my own. In high school. Just because I liked it. "Whan that Aprille, with his shoures sote..." I can repeat some of it out loud, all these years later, in that bizarre accent that our teacher used. I don't think I've ever read the whole thing, because it's so hard to parse, but the beginning was fabulous.

Just, dear God, don't ask me to spell it.
posted by Malor at 1:31 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


So your arbitrary comment that it is "the worst" is subjective, don't you think?

My opinion is fact, dammit!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:36 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing about Catcher in the Rye that I didn't get until the third time I read it is that it's actually black humor and that the novel undercuts all of the supposedly profound angsty stuff that Caulfield says. SPOILER: In the end, it is Holden Caulfield who is the phony.

Oh yeah! This is a great example of the real reason CITR is assigned in high school English classes: there's interesting literary techniques being used which can teach students how to read more deeply. (In this case, Irony and the Unreliable Narrator.) But the article's author sounded like she thought it was a straight-up case of radical anti-Establishment subversion which has unfortunately been "co-opted" by "the culture."

And that's another reason I cringed in embarrasment at the article. She sounds like one of those new teachers who desperately want to be accepted as your cool older sister, or your youthful aunt who got you a subscription to Sassy. In my school people were cruel beyond measure to those types; teachers had been the Enemy for our whole lives and now one of them has just showed weakness.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:48 AM on November 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


Harvey Kilobit: "High school students never, ever 'treasure' the books that schoolteachers force down their throats. They don't want to be there, hate their teachers, and wish the whole building would die in a fire. I remember thinking that I had a real life to go out and enjoy, if only Mrs. 'Battleaxe' Drake would shut up about Christ Figures and whan that Aprill."

You know what really pissed me off in high school? The fact that I was surrounded by idiot kids who'd been taught to think this way by their parents and even teachers enough that they actually believed it. I yearned to talk about how incredible Moby-Dick was, or how amazing and mind-bending Faulkner was, but I learned to keep my mouth shut and never say a word, because I'd be laughed at or get eye-rolls and even the teacher would sometimes be kind of put off by my enthusiasm.

Oh, and by the way - your notion that high school is "too late" for kids to be "forced" to read Shakespeare is bullshit. Shakespeare is awesome; Shakespeare is enjoyable. I had an English teacher who used to read Shakespeare to us, twirling around the room and doing the characters' voices; she took us to see a professional production of Macbeth, and for probably the only time in my high school career I felt at home because everybody else was loving the material like I did. Kids aren't idiots; and it's pretty obvious that late adolescence is a prime moment to be giving them awesome things to think about. The problem is this lovely idea that reading old books is pointless and dumb. It's an idea kids get from parents and even teachers sometimes, and it poisons everything.
posted by koeselitz at 1:53 AM on November 4, 2012 [108 favorites]


(... aaaand I get the feeling I've somewhat misread your comment. Still not exactly sure what you meant, I guess.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:57 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


your notion that high school is "too late" for kids to be "forced" to read Shakespeare is bullshit.

I agree, but I think you've got me backwards. The usual complaint I hear is that it's too early, and kids shouldn't be turned off a passion for literature by being dragged through Shakespeare. (But there is no "later" -- if you don't get him in high school you possibly won't get him at all.)

I basically inhaled books throughout my adolescence. (I was amazed to discover that, for most teenagers, telling your parents that you're spending the afternoon at the downtown public library is just a cover story for running off with your friends.) But as soon as a book became part of English class I detested the whole experience. Sounds like you liked your English teacher, which is damn cool.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:01 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


High school students never, ever "treasure" the books that schoolteachers force down their throats.

Speak for yourself, dude.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:08 AM on November 4, 2012 [21 favorites]


Slaughterhouse V. Vonnegut was a revelation to me. I read plenty - I read a LOT. But mostly crappy genre fiction. Most of what I was assigned to read I didn't Get. But after Slaughterhouse I read all of the Vonnegut I could find, and realized what there was to be found in Literature.
posted by flaterik at 1:13 AM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


I hated Catcher in the Rye when I was a teenager, but loved it when I reread it after college. (My personal headcanon is that Travis Bickle is grown-up Holden Caulfield.)

When I had to teach Catcher in the Rye, I started by telling my students that I hadn't liked it much at first and that students usually didn't like it. The rest of the class was spent talking about 1940s New York and looking at pictures of the Lunts. Most of the class finished reading the book ahead of schedule and said they loved it. I would like to think providing historical context made their reading easier and more enjoyable, but it could have been a perverse teenage desire to like something the teacher said they wouldn't like.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:15 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


High school students never, ever "treasure" the books that schoolteachers force down their throats.

THIS THIS THIS THIS

I never did the reading in HS or college. For one thing, the discussion in class and quizzes and tests always made it perfectly clear what the characters, story, themes and motivations were so there was no need. For another, I was too busy reading my own books.

I can't believe the depressing crap they are forcing my kids to read. Oldest son has one now that involves a boy who feels guilty for accidentally blinding a cat with a BB gun. Ugh. No WONDER they hate reading.

It's like the Oscars, but in a classroom setting. Depressing = art, anything else = fluff.
posted by DU at 2:06 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Depressing = art, anything else = fluff.

If only we could merge the two, into some happy medium: "arff", or "flart".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:10 AM on November 4, 2012 [22 favorites]


About the only thing I could bare in High School was my classes. I still look back fondly at all the stuff we read. A couple years later I was in a community college class about American Southern Gothic Lit. and the teacher/professor was a fucking idiot. There were three/four of us in the class who wanted to talk about different aspects of the books we were reading, he only wanted to teach one aspect. I don't know if he wasn't smart enough, but he just couldn't wrap his brain around any interpretation other than his own. It was stupid and depressing and made me realize why so many people (like) in that class, thought books were stupid. Me and my fellow story-lovers staged weekly rebellions in this ass-head's class. He hated us, and regularly told us we were wrong.

When I first read Catcher in The Rye I read it as I read most things (still read most things) - as a glimpse into some world I don't live in. I was going to be moving to The Greater Metropolitan/Tri-State area shortly and reading C.i.t.R. filled out my sort-of historic-psycho concept of Manhattan. And of boarding school, where I was also shortly bound. Nobody said I would love it, it was just another book in the pile that I was trying to devour wholesale. Another piece of the city I was building in my head.

And christ, I would never give a book to someone and say "here, you have to read this, you'll love it. It's the best ever!" because when people do that to me I suspect they are (perhaps secretly) idiots and if they liked the book the book probably sucks. Same with albums, or movies.

I don't think I really appreciated the nuances (like with Gatesby) until I read it again (third time?) in my thirties. It's a really good American Novel and ignoring it would be stupid. As would selling it to kids because, "OMG! You'll totally relate to the main character!" Personally, I related better with Raskolnikov. And Puck.

I haven't read Black Swan Green, so I can't say if it should replace the one.

I really didn't like this article.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:58 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


The article was okay. And... as for Catcher in the Rye, I read in the one English class available at my school where we were assigned non-standard texts. My feelings about CitR were that it was... okay. It was an easy read, amusingly dated but not unreadably so; this was in a Seattle high school circa 1993, and the class burst into laughter about the hick girls from that obscure town Seattle. The teacher was an aging hippie who seemed to be expecting us to LOVE it, but the only book I loved in that class was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which made an indelible impression on me. But then, I chose to read that.

My feelings about Holden, I guess, were amused indifference. Even when I was 17, I felt that he was a tiresome guy, and I couldn't imagine being able to exchange more than two words with him if I ever met him in real life.

But I also never cared much for The Great Gatsby either (which I read in my twenties, and then a few years later just to give it another try), so maybe I'm just a philistine...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:14 AM on November 4, 2012


"I can't believe the depressing crap they are forcing my kids to read. Oldest son has one now that involves a boy who feels guilty for accidentally blinding a cat with a BB gun. Ugh. No WONDER they hate reading. "

Well I'm sure you're teaching your kid something with this, but I suspect it isn't a love for reading or meaningful intelectual independence.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:45 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, Your So Smart!
posted by Blasdelb at 3:47 AM on November 4, 2012


Admitting that I am old, and was much closer to the time it was written than most of you, but I liked Catcher in the Rye well enough. In fact I loved most of the books we had to read in high school, The Scarlet Letter, Great Gatsby, and even Chaucer. Shakespeare came alive when our class went to see several plays put on by a great company. But I love to read and even in high school it was an escape from the awfulness of not being popular. The kids who hated to read hated it all, no matter what the teacher did. I did not care for Jane Austen but still got something out of reading Pride and Prejudice. I do not think only reading contemporary works is the way to go for high school, it should be a mix of old and new.
posted by mermayd at 4:09 AM on November 4, 2012


Catcher has long been dated as "relevant" for high schoolers. On the other hand, do we read only those books that are deemed "relevant"? I learned to love fiction by reading contemporary works while in college and then moving back to earlier works, those thought to be part of the canon.Bu note that even the canon has changed over the years.
posted by Postroad at 4:13 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having read Catcher in the Rye as both a teen and an adult, I can see why a reader might think it's dated: a) the language, and b) Holden's tone is no longer new, and has been adopted by even the cartoon characters that modern kids have grown up with. For me, personally, I don't think it's lost a thing.

I enjoyed Black Swan Green, but to me it doesn't have the same feel, part of which comes from the sense that the narrator is talking directly to you. OTOH, I read it as an adult, so I don't know how it comes across to kids.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:31 AM on November 4, 2012


Catcher in the Rye is one of those books i view along the same lines of Atlas Shrugged, and when i hear that people like either or both, usually both, I pretty much know more about that person than I'd like to.
posted by usagizero at 4:47 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it is not necessarily dated because of the way Holden talks, but some of the references no longer work to convey the meaning the author intended without doing extra work. It isn't a huge problem, after all shakespeare comes with guides to tell you shit like a bodkin is an awl, and "zounds" means "gods wounds".

Catcher In The Rye forces you to ask who are the Lunts? Why would you rent a skirt while ice skating? What is Gladstone bag and why would Holden's roommate pretend Holden's bags are his? To understand the work you also have to learn the historical context. Learning the historical context isn't bad, but it detracts from the immediacy of connecting with a work of fiction.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:56 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


My GF has occasionally said: if you have a favorite book, then you don't read enough. That may be true, though I think it's just supposed to get at something, and is not intended to be exactly true in every case.

Anyhoo, it makes me wonder whether a similar point could be made here. Maybe the problem is trying to find The One Book that's going to change everything for kids. And The One Book that is a CitR analog. Look, maybe the Harry Potter series is what does the trick--whatever the trick actually is--for These Kids Today. (Dunno...haven't read it.)

(Incidentally, I loved CitR, and it probably altered the trajectory of my life and thinking, at least a bit. So I don't have much patience for the haters. OTOH, I'm really, really stupid about literature....so there's that...)

(Also, I liked BSG, but had just read Cloud Atlas, and I kept expecting something weird to happen in BSG. So that gave the whole book a different kind of spin to me...not that this is an interesting story...)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:08 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I yearned to talk about how incredible Moby-Dick was, or how amazing and mind-bending Faulkner was, but I learned
> to keep my mouth shut and never say a word, because I'd be laughed at or get eye-rolls and even the teacher would
> sometimes be kind of put off by my enthusiasm.

I felt the same about the books, k, but never felt the least impulse to talk about them to classmates. That would be for my friends in some alternative universe that probably didn't exist, or else some future and higher existence that ditto. Try talking to the folks I had known since kindergarten and saw every schoolday about how my mother is a fish? As soon let them find out how badly I wanted to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and carry a sword instead of a walking stick.
posted by jfuller at 5:11 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we get a new Lord of the Flies too?

Thanks.
posted by freakazoid at 5:13 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can the new Lord of the Flies be Beauty Queens by Libba Bray?

Just because of the sheer number of heads that would explode.

(Actually... Nothing by Jan Teller might be able to fill that slot, as a book about adolescent cruelty that is, I think, sharper and realer than Lord of the Flies, if more concerned about our desperate flailing to provide meaning to our lives than about disruption of the social order.)
posted by Jeanne at 5:18 AM on November 4, 2012


I never got assigned it so I never read it so I win.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:18 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe they should assign books high school kids read on their own. Stuff like On The Road, Tom Robbins, Milan Kundera, Siddhartha.

Actually I think Siddharta is not such a bad idea.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:21 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Of course I'm a bookish nerd who LOVED high school reading assignments, but I pretty much agree with the rest of Harvey Kilobit's comment (especially considering my husband is the epitome of a really smart dude who stopped reading entirely once books were assigned in school). High school is way way way too late to teach children a love of literature.

Learning the historical context isn't bad, but it detracts from the immediacy of connecting with a work of fiction.

For the year we studied American fiction, my high school closely tied together the history and English programs, so this sort of historical context isn't unthinkable. Also, isn't "learning to analyze historical context based on literary context" a good skill to teach students? I read Catcher in the Rye on my own, and I enjoyed it without knowing the exact definitions of antique terms. I could figure them out from context.
posted by muddgirl at 5:24 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hated most of the books I was required to read in English class, and read most of the important books in my life outside of it. (Yes, I know, I'm an English teacher now, but that was an accident, I swear) The problem was they were required. I didn't like The Great Gatsby though the high school teachers at my school swear the boys mostly love it. I didn't like it until a few months ago when I re-read it, and even then I couldn't figure out why it was required. I really didn't like A Separate Peace and still don't. I would have called in sick for a month if anyone expected me to read any of Moby-Dick, even though this month I've been reading it in text form AND listening to it in the car, and I've been transfixed. I thought Holden Caulfield was a phony starting with the first page, so the rest of the book was a numbing slog.

My daughter, OTOH, decided she wanted to be a professor of English when she was about 13 and landed in the class of a bona fide weirdo with a penchant for Freudian literary analysis. (Daughter is finishing dissertation now, 17 years later).

The problem is the concept of required reading and the lockstep progression of every English class. That's one reason I teach most of my reading curriculum through poetry - if you didn't like today's poem, an e.e. cummings sailor's knot of a poem playing with capitalization and using indefinite pronouns as if they were proper nouns, hang in there, kid, because tomorrow's is "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

I'm fond of the "literature circle" approach, too - offer four loosely related books, let the kids choose, and put them in reading groups. I just did that with memoirs, and the kids enjoyed their choices because they were choices. The fact is, in English class you really only have a limited amount of time to "cover the canon" and if the school a mile away doesn't have the same required books you do, what are you doing here trying to nail literature by its feet to the floor so it can't escape?

I do assign one required book a year, and that's a pretty arbitrary one, chosen for me by tradition.
posted by Peach at 5:29 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, isn't "learning to analyze historical context based on literary context" a good skill to teach students? I

Oh sure, but some you just want to get to like reading. I think that is the criticism, that students don't "connect". I was always the type that tracked down every reference, but I was going to read no matter what.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:29 AM on November 4, 2012


High school is way way way too late to teach children a love of literature.

Right, which is why we don't do it that way. My kid is in first grade and a big chunk of his day, every day, is devoted to books and language and English prose and how they work.
posted by escabeche at 5:43 AM on November 4, 2012


In four years of high school I was assigned one book -- everything else was edited snippets in textbooks. That didn't impact me, because I was a voracious reader and read things like Catcher in the Rye on my own, but for the students who grew up in non-reading households it meant they graduated having only read The Great Gatsby. I guess it's good that they read a classic, but it remains one of the worst books I have ever read, so mawkish and melodramatic; I wish they could have picked a different book.

That said, if you're arguing about relevancy, I think it's very hard to sell teens on '80s books. Thatcherite England (along with the Falklands War, which I know exactly zero about even after reading BSG) doesn't have the glamor and pre-existing recognition of World War II or the American Civil War, but it has enough cultural references that belong to the murky past to be just mildly disorienting.

I agree. I've taught college classes, not high school, but I have found that the 80's are tricky to teach. It is long enough ago to be old, without being so long ago to be known at the level of myth and sentiment.
posted by Forktine at 5:45 AM on November 4, 2012


My biggest complaint from my 11th/12th grade honors/AP English classes was my teacher's (same one for both) penchant for assigning Thomas Hardy novels. Just seeing Jude the Obscure referenced in the article gave me a momentary flash of revulsion. I was never assigned CitR in any class, HS, College, or otherwise and still have yet to read it. Perhaps some day.
posted by rhythim at 5:49 AM on November 4, 2012


Isn't this article just a long form version of the classic blurb "Catcher in the Rye for a new generation"?
posted by mike_bling at 5:54 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


Do they still assign All Quiet on the Western Front? The two I never made it through were To The Lighthouse and Housekeeping.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:03 AM on November 4, 2012


I remember being deeply offended that my English teacher thought I would like it.

The biggest problem with assigning The Catcher in the Rye in high school is that the whole thing is (literally!) a "Fuck You" to teenagers. Its target audience seems to be former teenagers who are distant enough from the subject matter to get a laugh out of it. Having it assigned to you when you're fifteen is like your English teacher saying, "Hey, you'll love this book, since you're all just like the assholes in it!" Um, thanks.

Plus it's just so bleak. I'm not big on tacked-on happy endings or anything, but it probably couldn't hurt to drop at least the slightest glimmer of hope that "it gets better" into the high school curriculum. Even Lord of the Flies has that.

As for "High school students never, ever "treasure" the books that schoolteachers force down their throats." I used to believe this was true. And then, just now, I thought about it. And you know what? The reality is that I actually liked -- loved, even -- most of the books that were forced on me. The only exceptions are The Catcher in the Rye and Romeo & Juliet. (The latter because of the archaic language, yes, but also because Shakespeare's the ultimate "Seinfeld is unfunny". Plus all the same "teenagers, amirite" reasons that I hated Catcher.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:09 AM on November 4, 2012 [7 favorites]


Maybe they should assign books high school kids read on their own. Stuff like On The Road Naked Lunch, Flannery O'Connor, Henry Miller, de Sade.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:27 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh sure, but some you just want to get to like reading. I think that is the criticism, that students don't "connect".

VS.

Right, which is why we don't do it that way. My kid is in first grade and a big chunk of his day, every day, is devoted to books and language and English prose and how they work.

If we're still trying to get kids to 'connect' in high school despite 8 previous years of trying to get them to connect... that's just depressing.

I wasn't assigned Catcher in the Rye in school and I have no problem with mixing up the lit curriculum or even challenging the status quo. But when I was in high school the book that was assigned so all the kids could 'connect' to, that was supposed to be compelling and insightful etc. etc. etc. was The Power of One. I'm sure it's a great book but it wasn't any easier for uninterested high school readers to 'connect' to this coming-of-age story than any other.
posted by muddgirl at 6:28 AM on November 4, 2012


When we read The Catcher in the Rye, I kept insisting that we weren't supposed to completely sympathize with Holden. My teacher never heard the "completely." She assumed I was trying to treat Salinger like Nabokov. I still managed to like the book.

When I learned that Nabokov liked Salinger, I felt vindicated.

I haven't read Black Swan Green, but this article makes it sound as though the author wants the reader to sympathize completely with his narrator. Not my idea of a good time.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:30 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did not realize until this moment that Holden was supposed to be a phony. I thought I just found him phony. Admittedly, I think I read the book when I was 15 and haven't looked at it since. I've always had trouble with picking out unreliable narrators - where the author really intends you to think radically differently from them - as opposed to human and fallible narrators who interpret the world.

I enjoyed the experience of reading the book because it was light but I felt like it was a "classic", that was about it. I read it on my own using my dad's old copy.

I wonder if one reason a lot of HS kids have trouble with certain types of literary analysis is that we are anxious readers - I remember having a lot of aggression/anxiety toward texts in terms of "finding their meaning", wanting everything to match up neatly, being troubled when I could not readily assign a meaning to a text that fit in with my understanding of the world. (And I was a pretty cultured, left, widely-read teenager - it wasn't that I wanted everything to be about Jesus or everyone to value the sanctity of marriage or whatever, it was more that a genuinely novel worldview like Celine's or like in the Tale of Genji was really hard for me to accept.) The idea that there could be multiple readings was hard for me to grasp at that age, and I don't think I really got the idea that multiple readings could all co-exist (as opposed to one being morally "better" than the others) until I was in my late twenties.

The biggest problem with assigning The Catcher in the Rye in high school is that the whole thing is (literally!) a "Fuck You" to teenagers. Its target audience seems to be former teenagers who are distant enough from the subject matter to get a laugh out of it. Having it assigned to you when you're fifteen is like your English teacher saying, "Hey, you'll love this book, since you're all just like the assholes in it!" Um, thanks.

This! We read tons and tons of books with teenage protagonists whose subjective experience was supposed to "speak" to us - The Member of the Wedding, jesus god. "Paul's Case". They were all fiendishly depressing in a "people are small and drab and pathetic and their lives are small and drab and pathetic" way, and all absolutely about an incredibly circumscribed WASP middle class early-to-mid-20th-century experience. How I disliked those books - and their subtleties were lost on me. I still have no desire to read Carson McCullers, which is a shame.

Things I loved: a short story by Toni Cade Bambara and an essay by Brigid Brophy, both of which inspired me to read more of their work; various poetry; Huckleberry Finn. I'm astonished by how little work by black writers we read. The non-gifted class read Beloved but the gifted class, for some reason, did not.

The idea of "memoir circles" and some choice in reading - that's pretty great.

One thing I noticed when I was student teaching - a lot of kids just aren't very good at reading. Reading has always been like breathing to me; I don't even notice that I'm doing it and there's no real barrier between word and thought. But I met a lot of kids for whom it was a chore, like doing a bunch of quadratic equations. What to do about this? I'm not sure. For some kids, it seems like memoirs are really gripping - either because they are 'real' or because the kids have never seen their experience represented in print before. I don't quite know what would be a good mix for others - you don't want to give stupid dumbed-down stuff since being a poor reader isn't the same as being a poor thinker or feeler.

I don't even think it's a love of reading that is so important as much as an ease of reading. And that's so hard to instill later.

I also wonder whether some of the literary analysis stuff could have been scaffolded better - I loved doing it (unlike every other teenager in the whole world) but it was so seldom well-explained or well situated in the course. I have an internet acquaintance who teaches a community college class in close reading which sounds absolutely brilliant - and it's taught very much as "this is about how to read and while you can enjoy some of the texts, they aren't here for their pop-relevance any more than a principle in geometry or a piece of wood in wood shop is".
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I were revising the high school canon, I would pare down a lot of the archaic and/or ancient-language assignments (less Shakespeare, no Chaucer, no Homer, etc.) and put stuff in that is more straightforwardly exciting for teenagers while still being literary: Cormac McCarthy, Herman Hesse, Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Nabokov, Pynchon. Also more about teenagers in love that's not R&J.
posted by shivohum at 6:46 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


This reminded me that my own high school did a Summer Reading List, in which all the incoming students picked a book to read from a list (returning student all had to read one particular book). The school still does it, here's this year's list. If I remember correctly, I read Flatland (loved) and the Mill on the Floss (hated), although not in the same year.

I didn't like Catcher in the Rye when I was a teen, mostly because a) I found Holden to be as phony as those he derided, b) I think you have to be attracted to a certain strain of cynicism for it to really grab onto you, and I just didn't have it. These days I still don't like it even as I recognize that it's an important book in US literature.

The problem with electing something as the "new Catcher in the Rye" is that process is top down; Catcher didn't catch on because it was recommended by teachers. It caught on because it was initially passed around like samizdat -- teens telling teens that this guy had the right of it. It was peer-transmitted wisdom. All "great" works of adolescent wisdom started that way: On the Road, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Magus, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and (yes, albeit briefly) The Fountainhead were some of the ones that made the cut in my circle.

I'm not personally sure which books are the new teen samizdat because my daughter's not in high school yet. But if you want to know the answer is not asking the teachers; it's looking at the books that get confiscated because they're being read rather than the assigned reading.
posted by jscalzi at 7:11 AM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


Arff for flart's sake.
posted by Glomar response at 7:13 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't mind Shakespeare, as I think that's pretty much essential, and in the right context it's fine, if boring to most kids. But honestly, wtf is up with Scarlet Letter. I hated that thing, and overall I didn't *mind* reading (I was never hugely into fiction, however; more into science type books). I can't imagine how godawful Scarlet Letter was for kids who actually didn't like to read at all. Hell, one of my friends who is an author and really into reading all kinds of stuff abhorred Scarlet Letter, and she went to a different school, so I doubt it's due to the curriculum itself, I think the book just sucks bloody bollocks. I think a short Chaucer Tale is fine (we did one of them, though i can't recall which).

We also had To Kill a Mockingbird, and my absolute favorite that we read was A Separate Peace. I think having characters deal with relatable context is a huge factor in that, at least for me. I suppose I also loved Space Station Seventh Grade, but high literature, it is not... But it drew me in because it was absolute contextually ON (I should add that we did, indeed, read it in 7th grade).

I admit to not having read a large part of what Shivohum suggests, but I am a HUGE PKD fan. It might be a bit outdated as well, and some of the concepts might just be over some kids heads (and the themes, well...), and I'd imagine HST would also be hard to get school boards to allow. But I could see some of the others, as I know they're classics.

Really, I never read Catcher in the Rye (I always get it confused with Grapes of Wrath for some reason, and of course, I've never read that, either). When I think of CitR, I think of assassinations. So, there's that.
posted by symbioid at 7:15 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dislike of Catcher in high-school was mostly that I had a really hard time giving a damn about the problems of a rich prep-school kid.
posted by octothorpe at 7:17 AM on November 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


" The only exceptions are The Catcher in the Rye and Romeo & Juliet. (The latter because of the archaic language, yes, but also because Shakespeare's the ultimate "Seinfeld is unfunny". Plus all the same "teenagers, amirite" reasons that I hated Catcher.)"

"b) I think you have to be attracted to a certain strain of cynicism for it to really grab onto you, and I just didn't have it. "


I read "Catcher" on my own, not for school, and didn't like it either, and I think it's basically what you guys have said: It's not a form of teenage angst I recognized very well, it was so cynical and distant and depressing, so disengaged, and it goes on for SO MANY PAGES. Not in an absolute sense, but just that that's a long time to read a narrator you really can't stand and don't sympathize with. Looking at it again as an adult I hated it less, because I know ex-teenagers (mostly boys) who were alienated in the way Holden is, who can talk about it with some perspective and remove now, so I can at least sympathize a little, but I still didn't like it. It's just unpleasant to be subjected to an unpleasant narrator with whom you can't identify for a whole novel. I neither felt like we shared anything about our inner emotional lives OR anything about our circumstances where I might be like "I recognize your problem and though you deal with it like a sociopath I am at least interested in your problem."

My problem with Romeo & Juliet was similar -- I found it really difficult to identify with anything in the story because they both ACTED LIKE INSANE PEOPLE WITH NO SENSE. I loved Julius Caesar and Hamlet, the other two Shakespeare plays we did in high school, but I'm still not very fond of Romeo & Juliet because I just want to shake the main characters.

I loved most of the novels (and long-form plays) I read in high school and junior high. The other one I loathed (besides Romeo & Juliet) was A Prayer for Owen Meany (the rant is long and I will spare you). I didn't really like A Farewell to Arms, although even at the time I recognized its importance in the American canon. It read along easily enough, it wasn't a slog, but Hemmingway is not my guy and Frederic and Catherine both need a good slapping.

Among those I particularly remember adoring in high school were "Crime and Punishment," "Julius Caesar," and "Of Human Bondage."

How about some GIRL coming of age novels in the high school canon, instead of all these angsty boys? That'd be nice.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2012 [19 favorites]


I loved 'To Kill A Mockingbird' when I studied it. And 'The Crucible'. Hated 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' and William Blake. In general I found studying a book could dampen my enthusiasm for all but the strongest of books, or books that I had come to on my own before we read them in class.

But then, my mother was an English teacher, so I was unlikely to not grow up loving reading. I was more likely to be aware that how a book was taught mattered almost as much as what the book was, as some teachers could make anything more engaging, even if I didn't particularly enjoy the text, while others couldn't liven up anything but the most absorbing works.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:44 AM on November 4, 2012


Maybe they should assign books high school kids read on their own. Stuff like On The Road, Tom Robbins, Milan Kundera, Siddhartha.

Actually I think Siddharta is not such a bad idea.


My sophomore public school English class in Oklahoma did Siddhartha. Right after A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:49 AM on November 4, 2012


Isn't this article just a long form version of the classic blurb "Catcher in the Rye for a new generation"?

If it doesn't move product, they could replace Catcher with Twilight and call it a day.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:56 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read Catcher in high school in the early 70s and to be honest it felt a little dated then, but so was much of the literature we read. But we weren't reading it as if it was a contemporary novel (nothing is "contemporary" for very long anyway) so I didn't get the same reaction as the article's author. Which isn't to say I liked it, it was difficult to really connect with Holden as a person though I'm sure some did. It's okay sometimes to be pushed out of your comfort zone, reading-wise.
posted by tommasz at 7:56 AM on November 4, 2012


I got assigned a lot of stuff in high school; my own saving graces were that I actually LIKED to read, and I was always in the advanced classes so the teachers weren't trying to assign us books we were supposed to "relate" to. Still, I distinguished myself as being the only kid in sophmore English who actually went on to read the whole of Silas Marner after that awful first chapter, rather than giving up and secretly reading the Cliff Notes. (It got way better. I told people they didn't know what they were missing.)

But I also was really lucky my senior year; my school had a special privilege for the honors class kids, where if we had a study hall, rather than reporting to study hall we could go to the library for the whole period and still be marked present. Ostensibly this was for kids who had to do research for a term paper or something, but when I learned that this was an unlimited privilege, I immediately decided that hell with going to the cafeteria and sitting there, I'd much rather go to the library and read for the whole hour. The librarian was really suspicious at first, and the first couple times I went there he grilled me on what class I had a report for and didn't believe I was there just for fun; but then I read the book he'd offered me as a challenge one day and then we were best buds. I made a point of asking him for recommendations when my English class assigned me a "read a book from this period" reading project and happily ended up reading Ivanhoe at a time when everyone else in my class was struggling with deathly dull social comedies from the 1820's.

The librarian had it right - he didn't care what people read, as long as we read, and that saved my ass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2012


The idea that school teach a love of literature is flawed as a premise. Moreso when all in the class are assigned the same book. Everyone was forced through a mini liberal arts course, giving a taste of higher education for those who might be interested. For those who ween't, the system could say, "Well, we tried."

Catcher was never assigned (or even mentioned, as far as I can recall), so I read it on my own, because I knew it was something that was supposed to speak to me. This was back in the 80s. But I was underwhelmed, and really couldn't relate, even making allowances for the dated-ness. Maybe it's one reason literature would be a field of interest I would not pursue.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2012


Anyone who thinks Catcher is about Holden's 'painful, alienating realization—that in life, phonies abound and beauty is a fragile, horrible thing we will forever chase and lose' is a pretty poor reader.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


This sixteen year old me thought it was numblingly dumb and didn't understand anything Holden did or felt until a teacher suggested he might be an unreliable narrator and like, Totally Bonkers.

We also did Siddartha, which was much more interesting.

But if we're bitching about HS required reading, let's bitch about A Separate Fucking Peace god I still hate that book.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you have a favorite book then you don't read enough.

I think I have to disagree with your girlfriend here, but I think it's a semantic disagreement about the meaning of "favorite".

My favorite book is my favorite book because when I see the cover, or pick up my old copy, or pick up a new copy, or let it fall open to any page, or search specifically for that particular passage, I remember strongly and completely a particular moment in time when I was still a kid, but suddenly learned a strange and awful--yet oddly comforting--truth about adults.

Not from the book itself, although that did happen to be part of the text of the book, but because of various reactions from adults when I wanted to talk about what it meant. Some did not get what it meant. Some did. Some would not credit my understanding of what it meant. Some did.

So this is my favorite book--in part because it's a top-shelf high-calibre book, but also because my experience in reading it actually propelled my self forward. And just looking at the book again makes me feel again that strange and wonderful movement from being a child to not. And makes me feel again the slight disorientation of seeing that movement while making that movement. Like spinning too much then lying flat on your back in the grass and feeling the rotation of the earth.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:02 AM on November 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I loved Catcher in the Rye when it was assigned to me in high school to read. I know now it's because I related to the main character since I was a big phony too. Rather than a phony though, I think I'm more of a fraud. The difference between Holden and I was that I wasn't born to a rich, indifferent family that could afford to keep sending me to a series of prep schools. Also, it was assigned to me to read in 1978, so I imagine it was a little more relevant then.

I generally read the books assigned to us the first night. Some I hated, some I really liked. Demian and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse made me seek out more of his books. Lord of the Flies on the other hand I hated. I sought out some of the other classics that friends in other schools had to read, and it was mixed as to which ones I liked or hated. That I hated them had little to do with the writing, but rather with the subjects and the plots. I think they were all "good" books, it was just personal taste if I liked them or not.
posted by Eekacat at 8:12 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went back and re-read Catcher in the Rye for the first time since high school recently just for my own edification -- to try to see why it is that so many people seem to think it's the worst book they ever read -- of course accompanied with groaning and eyeball-rolling at the mere memory of being forced on a death march through the self-absorbed verbal diarrhea emitted by that stinky, self-entitled snot-nosed liar, loner, loser, and all-around disgusting pathetic worm named Holden Caulfield. Barf!

I wasn't edified. I think it's a fine, brilliant book, and I was actually blown away at how good it was, how prolific and abundant the insights and the terrific turns of phrase. I can see why it's possibly a mistake for it to be assigned to high school students -- maybe that's a big reason for it being so loathed, just the mere fact that you're being forced to read it, forced to read anything, being told that it's great literature and that you should just know it and accept it and there's something wrong if you can't or won't. To this day I have a mental block about Light in August and Portrait of the Artist (and a lot of other 100-best-list fiction) because in high school I was told that I needed to study them to know what great literature was and that my lack of application to their subtleties meant that I was somehow a lazy unreachable fool.

But that doesn't detract from Catcher in the Rye, to me, all these years later. Maybe it's just me, which is weird. Bizarre that apparently in order to like/appreciate/get something out of Catcher in the Rye you are required to be some sort of cynical, snotty, longwinded, depressed/depressing, oddball, "unrelatable" rich prep-school phony yourself, the same way that in order to appreciate Madame Bovary you're required to be a bored provincial doctor's wife in 19th-century northern France, or in order to appreciate Crime and Punishment you'll need to take an ax to an elderly pawn-shop owner first, or in order to appreciate The Metamorphosis you need to know intimately what it's like to be be a vile cockroach. God forbid that any protagonist should ever be any of those things, and God forbid that you should ever be subjected to anyone "unpleasant" in high school literature. Because surely, as a high-school student looking down the road of years, there are no unpleasant, phony, horrid, depressing, negative people you're ever going to be subjected to in life itself.

Oh, and about Black Swan Green? Turns out it shows up quite a bit on Twitter with the hashtag #worstbookever too. So much for the new conquering hero.
posted by blucevalo at 8:14 AM on November 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


I didn't really " get" Madam Bovary until I danced with an aging duke.
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2012


"A classic is a book that everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read." - possibly Mark Twain

I didn't enjoy Of Mice And Men, per say, but I'm certainly glad to have read it. (Plus the Looney Tunes Abominable Snowman suddenly made sense.) Ditto The Good Earth, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, The Grapes of Wrath, Les Miserables (abridged, thank Dieu) and The Handmaid's Tale. I'd add The Great Gatsby to that list, but I can't remember it. And I still think we read the wrong Hardy - I'm sure I would have suffered through Tess of D'Ubervilles, but I can't possibly have hated it more than I hated The Mayor Of Casterbridge. I *hated* Lord Of The Flies, but even then I could see the importance. (Although, on second thought, I think that may have been middle school. And it was at about the same time The Simpsons sent Bart to a deserted island with his classmates, so it was easy to see the relevance)

But basically, I agree that high school literature isn't meant to instill a great love of reading or even of novels. It's to teach critical reading and it's to teach cultural relevance. That book I hated in class showing up in cartoons after school actually taught me to appreciate some of the reading in that eat-your-peas-they're-good-for-you sort of way.
posted by maryr at 8:18 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your favorite high school reading sucks.

Really I came here to link Will Smith's brilliant performance of the Catcher in the Rye monologue from Six Degrees of Separation. It's a bit strange watching it out of context, it's the keystone scene of the whole movie. But Smith's delivery is phenomenal, the way he spellbinds the adults with his intense, meaningful, yet pretentious and sort of incoherent analysis of high school literature. Such a delicious scene.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 AM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think kids should be assigned books to read because they make a point and are good books to read for specific reasons, not because they might like them. They might like watching Transformers more than a film about animal migration, or Twilight more than their Math textbook, who cares? That’s not what they are there for. They can read things they want to read on their own time, it’s called "entertainment".

To be exposed to things you might not otherwise be exposed to is a great gift, and for many this is the last time it will ever happen to them. Whether you liked it or not is not the point, it’s almost irrelevant. Look at the overwhelming number of adults who only read one type of book or watch movies of a very narrow scope. Most will end up this way, but you have to give them an opportunity.

When I was a kid my uncle would give us records as presents. Of course he didn’t know what we liked, but he was a little hipper than most and gave us things we’d never heard of instead of what we wanted. I’m sure he had no idea, but to this day that was one of the most influential things in my life. We were baffled at first, and didn’t like a lot of them, but some of them were life changing. I still follow this philosophy with gifts; If there’s something specific you really like and want you can buy it yourself. I’ll try to find something you don’t know you like yet.

School is not for delivering entertainment.
posted by bongo_x at 8:23 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I never warmed to Catcher in the Rye. I'm definitely among the category of kids who rankled against our assigned work, and my god, but the school system of Howard County, Maryland assigned some epics of dull American writing in my day. It's funny, but I can reread some of those assignments now and think ah—I get it, and that's quite a decent book, but there was this joylessness in repetition that just did me in. How many times can a teacher walk through Steinbeck and still be electrified by what he did well? How many times can you drone through the delights of Gatsby to distracted suburbanites and make it alive for them?

Catcher never came to me. Gatsby did, but only twenty-five years later, when I had lived long enough and hard enough that that final, crushing series of lines at the end became something I felt in the marrow of my bones.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


If you'd told me in the first of what would eventually be three successive sophomore years truncated neatly by my expulsion from school that it would one day become a comfort to me to drive nineteen miles to sit quietly on Fitzgerald's grave, trace out the recesses of those engraved words, and remember, I'd have laughed at you, and said something arch and sarcastic. Back then, I was safe in the embrace of my family, protected from the future by pretense and ignorance, and isolated from things like death and failure.

I wish, in my way, that they taught things the way I taught myself, but I'm being a grotesque egotist to think it might be universal, I suppose. In my day, I dodged the assignments to read Bradbury instead, to work and rework well-trodden ways through huge, expository fictional dream worlds saturated with adjectives in florid, bleeding, syrupy clusters of wordlust. I shivered to the arch excesses of Lovecraft, and wrapped up tightly in my bed at night, imagining the mice skittering through the lathwork of my walls and his rats in the walls. I didn't get Shakespeare, beyond the productions I saw played out on the satisfying tiny stage of the old Folger theater, and didn't get the things that too many adult teachers cherish because they, too, had come to know the future, death, and failure.

By high school, it may well be too late, unless you had a teacher like I had had years before.

I'd been personally rescued from special education by one of the most important women I will ever know, Mrs. Noreen Brastow, of Hammond Elementary School, who watched me in the school library long before I was meant to be in her grade and paid notice as I was put into special ed as a clumsy mid-seventies way of dealing with my learning disability and my relationship with an abusive teacher, brewing on the sidelines until she couldn't take it anymore, storming into my classroom in the apex where Pod B and Pod C met at the science room and bringing me into her class for the rest of the semester a grade early.

Pod C, in the parlance of our miserably engineered modern "open space" schools of the seventies, was the final destination in elementary school, and a clangorous hangar of distraction made perfect by the inclusion of three boisterous classes with no divisions beyond the low, orange-furred movable partitions that loosely marked out our home territories. Three teachers taught against the background roar of ninety simultaneous voices and the exposed overhead ductwork, and in that Pod, the demoralization of forces formed the majority view.

Mrs. Brastow, on the other hand, was still alive and electric—more Sook than Ben Stein—and she shared that magical interest with the thrilling enthusiasm of a combined Mrs Who, Which, and Whatsit. She read to us, not because it was in the curriculum, but because it was right, and would accelerate the rote portions of the class to allow space to tell us a story in a chapter each day.

She read us The Yearling over the course of a year, and it was the perfect book for the perfect year, a volume appropriate to our age, but which didn't shy away from the devastating wealth of human experience, and when I cried, I didn't have to hide my face, because we all did, watched from across the Pod by the less-lucky classes.

"Y'all were crying today," sneered the squinty young provocateur, Joey Decker, clearly pointing out that our class had been seen red-faced by the other two classes as we made our way to the cafeteria.

"He shot Flag," said Sarah Morris, wiping away a fresh tear. "You wouldn't understand." I always had a crush on that girl, never more so than that moment.

"Yeah, I understand a class of crybabies."

At forty-four, I understand Joey Decker, too.

In high school, there's too often a misunderstanding of our maturity, coupled with the committeethink standardization of what constitutes great literature, and so they toss us into this sea of good and bad work, armed with not nearly enough experience to grasp some of it, and too much of it to not be cynical about the rest. You can get something from Of Mice and Men over a broad range of age and experience if it's taught right, but give a teacher the arch dryness of Shakespeare's "funny" writing and it's all just words, hanging in space, full of sound and fury and signifying not a fucking thing to some teenager caught up in the struggle for second base.

If the groundwork is there, kids don't need to be forced to read, making that sorrowful Pavlovian connection between reading and the march to Gulag.

In the first grade, my teacher called home repeatedly.

"Mrs. Wall, Joseph has read beyond the assigned section of his language arts book again. I've gone as far as rubber-banding off the rest of the book, and he's clearly removed the rubber band and read the next section. He thinks I don't know that he's removed and replaced the rubber band, but I know."

"What's wrong with him reading ahead?"

"We have to work at the same pace in these classes. It doesn't do us any good for some of our students to leapfrog ahead of the rest of the class."

If you had had this wretched, meanspirited woman as your teacher, you'd understand. Class was boring, empty, and ritualistic. The rubber band, on the other hand, was the boundary between now and the mysteries of the future. In retrospect, I plead guilty, Mrs. Marcellus, but I have thirty-eight years of experience under my belt since then, and you were wrong.

By high school, my dogged, frustrating resistance had beaten down some of my teachers and they shook their heads and said, "Okay, Ford [I was known as "Ford" for my first year of high school in a clever attempt to redefine my uncoolness by embracing my fanatical love of Adams], I gather that you don't want to read the assigned book, so why don't you pick out a book for this report and do that one instead. I will insist, in exchange, that you present yours for the class, so you can make a case for reading outside the assigned list of books."

"Okay!"

I read, I reread, I scribbled notes in the margins, frantically assembled my thoughts and impressions, sat for one long, long weekend at the keys of my Royal Royalite portable manual typewriter with a genuine leatherette carrying case and tassels on the zipper pulls and turned my drafts into a final case for the wonders of the book I selected, which I'd found in my older sister's room and adopted based on the titillating promise of its title. I tucked four pages of erasable linen typewriter bond with a watermark into my doodle-encrusted canvas binder, caught the bus in, and sat there like a cobra waiting to strike.

"Mr. Wall, would you like to give your report now?"

I was following Karen Wassman's less-than-engaging take on Johnny Tremain, so I was pretty sure I was golden, and that my report could well change the world.

"Yes, Mrs. Beurlen," I said, and walked to the front of the class. "The book I have selected for my report is Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs."

Her drawn-in eyebrows went up, then down, and she mumbled, "Oh, for Christ's sake" just loud enough for me to hear. I went into the concept of the cut-up, the background of Burroughs, complete with the lurid tale of what happened to his wife, and some of the history of the publication of the book.

"If I might read a passage here—" I started, and was about to read a bit about two boys under a train trestle that would have almost certainly have shut the school down for the rest of the day, but Mrs. Beurlen stopped me, thanked me for my work, and asked me to return to my seat.

When the report came back, it was marked with an A, as well as a little note that said "Perhaps we should reconsider the assigned reading list for the next one," coupled with a desperate little smiley face. I followed that advice, but never got another A until I put myself through college.

If my high school reading had been the main effort of getting me to read, I would be a different person today, and the problems that sent me to special ed in the third grade would by now have put me in a very, very different place. Instead, I had a teacher early enough who caught me at exactly the right time, and who made me cry in a way so much harder than our legions of overprotective adults will ever allow now.

Jody shot Flag. I—

"Mrs. Brastow, I said. I don't like that he did that. That's not how it's supposed to go. Why did the author make us love Flag if that was going to happen?"

"Oh, Joe—too much of life is not how it's supposed to go, but we can't hide from that."

"I dunno."

Except now, I do.

And one fine morning—
posted by sonascope at 8:28 AM on November 4, 2012 [51 favorites]


Catcher in the Rye is one of my all-time favorite books. The first two times I read it were for school assignments in Junior High and High School. And I liked it then. In fact, I think a lot of kids in my class liked it (if for no other reason that it had its share of dirty words and fart jokes). I know anti-intellectualism is"cool" in school (and national politics) but stating that all kids hate their assigned reading is way over the top. Perhaps the focus should be to change the style of teaching so that the enthusiastic students are not the rarities rather than just ditching good books and giving up.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 8:41 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of all the books this article could pick on, why Catcher? If anything, we should be looking at those centuries-old curricular mainstays that bury what treasures they may have in obsolete dialogue and alien subject matter. Any student whose jury is still out on the value-added of reading will have had his mind quite made up once he’s been force-fed the likes of Moby-Dick.

Perhaps Catcher is a bit “outmoded,” but at least it’s still in the ballpark.
posted by jeremy b at 8:47 AM on November 4, 2012


I like the book, even if I'm not an angsty teenager and haven't been for 15 years. You know what else hasn't aged well? The soundtrack to Ghostbusters. I still like the movie though.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read Catcher in Rye freshman year of high school, not for class, but because I had a deal with my mom that if I read books on her list of classics she'd buy me books on my list of SFF. This was marginally better than class, because it meant I had some choice and I found a lot of books I love through it, but Catcher in the Rye was still one of my least favorite.

I'm a little curious to know if there's an age gap between the people who like it and those who dislike it. I think part of it is that a lot of what kids back then liked about it has been replicated in other books that you can get the same feeling without having to know the historical context and they more recent books feel much more real and edgy because what we consider edgy has shifted. (goddam is a pretty mild word in high school now) If Catcher is going to be taught, it should be taught as this was the beginning of this genre, rather than look at this unique book.
posted by raeka at 9:01 AM on November 4, 2012


I don't understand how anyone can hate a book that includes a character named Commander Blop.
posted by freakazoid at 9:08 AM on November 4, 2012


The problem with how books are taught in school is that they are posited to be hard. Poems, too. Students are given this idea that they have to learn the secret way to find out what the thing Really Means And Is Important And Is A Great And Deep Insight Into Life. No wonder students hate assigned reading-- they don't get to read the damn thing, they have to decipher an imaginary code that isn't there.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:14 AM on November 4, 2012 [11 favorites]


For a bleak, depressing, young-anti-hero-filled slog that will mildly challenge today's teenage readers and leave many of them with exactly the wrong message, how about Trainspotting?
posted by mubba at 9:18 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Count me as another who really liked "Catcher in the Rye" - I loved the various ways the story could be read, the alternating views of Holden Caulfield, the way it picked apart then-current social norms and reflected back how things had (or, more tellingly, had not) changed when I was reading it (mid '80s). And the way Salinger used language was interesting to me.

I'm not actually sure if I was ever assigned to read it in school, though. It may have been one of the many books I decided to read before it showed up on a reading list, or maybe not. I do remember thinking that I preferred the idea of having a big list of books recommended for my grade level so that I could whip through as many as possible in my own time, instead of one-by-one assignments.

I think the article author misses the point of this type of assignment, and that her recommendation is misguided. I'm all for new books entering the stream put before young people to understand the mechanics and subtleties of reading and writing, but she doesn't get that some kids are going to hate her recommendation, too, and that others are going to hate anything they have to read, so it doesn't matter. She'd probably get better traction and impact by providing a list of "you might like/prefer" books after the class has read the assigned book or as an accompaniment to the big book list at the start of the year.
posted by batmonkey at 9:18 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


As this thread demonstrates, no group of high school students or former high school students is ever going to agree on what's good and worthwhile reading. But we all are marched through some set curriculum with English teachers of varying ability who even at their best cannot be sympatico with every student, and wind up with all sorts of ridiculous notions and prejudices about literature.

A friend of mine who is highly intelligent and university educated told me some years ago that she "didn't like Canadian literature", that "it was dreary and the characters all had weird sexual lives".

Sweeping generalizations like this (Dismissing a country's entire literary output? Seriously?) are generally bullshit, and I knew the problem really was that my friend didn't like the handful of Canadian novels that she had been required to read in high school. So for the next several years I included a book by a Canadian author in each of her birthday and Christmas presents. I'm good at picking out books for people, and I picked books I knew she would like. She enjoyed them all and now she doesn't say that anymore.

I remember being given a list of 100 books that high school students should read and pinning it up on my closet door, determined to work through it (I'd already read fifteen to twenty of them on my own). I didn't. I tried reading maybe six of them and hated them and never got beyond the first few chapters. There's really no reason to read any set list of books unless they're required for a course you're taking. There are loads of great books out there and reading selections should be about what you enjoy and being open to new reading experiences.
posted by orange swan at 9:18 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had always read beyond my grade level, and I was bored to tears in school. When I was 12 I had enough and decided I wasn't going to read a comic, or a short story, or a juvenile-class book. I marched into my middle-school library and looked for a novel I might enjoy. I picked up Fahrenheit 451 and loved it.

In high school, they forced me to read A Catcher in the Rye. After Holden leaves the school, I checked out mentally and finished it because I had to. It was an agonizing read. Throughout the novel I kept saying to myself Fucking DO something. He never felt like a teenager to me, he felt like what an author decided a teenager was. And then proceeded to tell me (or the reader) "I've unlocked their minds, teenagers!"

In the last year, I told myself, "Self, what if you were young and brash? What if you liked Fahrenheit 451 because it was sf?" So I reread them.

Fahrenheit 451 holds up. Catcher in the Rye is even worse than I remembered and now, as an experienced reader, would call it one of the worst books I've read. I recommend it to no one, and recommend The Stranger instead.
posted by CarlRossi at 9:19 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Slate has really become consistently amazing at what it does, hasn't it? It's defined a whole new market niche that couldn't have existed before the Internet: The New Yorker as written by trolls. Inflammatory, half-baked 2,000-word pieces on culture and politics for as long as the clicks keep coming! Obvious errors in reasoning or superficial, point-missing arguments encouraged, because they give readers more to disagree with!

Students are given this idea that they have to learn the secret way to find out what the thing Really Means

This is a large part of the strangeness of High School Literature, which is quite odd and specific both as a model of reading and a canon of texts — and it's important to note how little relation HSL has with any other kind of reading or group of texts. The two defining features of HSL, it seems to me, are (1) the compulsory nature of the reading and (2) the puzzle-box/Find the Secret/allegorical model of interpretation. You didn't choose to read the book, you aren't encountering it as part of a course of reading which you determined yourself, so you don't get to develop a personal context for it; and it's usually decontextualized in the course, too, bearing no particular relation to the other books you read apart from some loose idea that each one is a Great Book containing Universal Truths which it's your job to unlock. And a text, in HSL, is ultimately a form of puzzle which you are made to solve. A book is not a text full of highly specific words and ideas any of which you can develop your own relationship with or ideas about, but a locked box that can only be unlocked with the right allegorical reading. Ultimately the only you're meant to do with HSL, as a reader, is to discover that it's not "about" a specific time or place or person at all, despite appearances, but rather that all that specificity is really just a thin wrapper around Man's Search for Meaning or some similar form of universalizing blather.

it's a very weird way of relating to texts — in fact if you were trying to craft a way of teaching people how not to enjoy or get anything out of literature I'm not sure you could do better.
posted by RogerB at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2012 [6 favorites]


A friend of mine who is highly intelligent and university educated told me some years ago that she "didn't like Canadian literature", that "it was dreary and the characters all had weird sexual lives".

Sweeping generalizations like this (Dismissing a country's entire literary output? Seriously?) are generally bullshit, and I knew the problem really was that my friend didn't like the handful of Canadian novels that she had been required to read in high school.


I really want to believe this means there is at least one high school out there forcing kids to read Marie-Claire Blais.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:31 AM on November 4, 2012


My dad gave me The Catcher in the Rye to read on my own in 6th grade, after I'd discovered what the word cynical meant and decided it was a good self-descriptor. Honestly, I don't remember much about that reading of it, besides all the parts about sex alternately grossing me out and sailing right over my sheltered 12 year-old head.
(It's worth noting that he made the same mistake the following year with The Last Picture Show. The affairs! The trips south of the border for prostitutes! What the hell was my dad thinking?) I picked up a lot more nuances reading again for school later, but I don't seem to have the same strong love-it-or-hate-it reactions of a lot of people here. It was just another English class book--my hatred was reserved for Thomas Hardy.

Jscalzi nails it with his description of books passed from teen to teen, but the particular novels he mentions never showed up in my circles. The book of choice in my particular groups was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which often gets compared to Catcher in the Rye. I still own a dog-eared copy of Perks with the names of all my friends who borrowed in penciled in the front cover. In many ways, Charlie is a sort of anti-Holden; painfully sincere, eager to please friends and authority figures, more open about the tragedies of his past. And yet he managed to learn a lot of the same lessons--how to navigate first crushes, process trauma, recognize "phonies" and learn to live with them.

Perks turned me onto so many of the things that I used as signals to find "my people" later--zines, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Smiths. It turns out to be a common shared touchstone for lots of people I meet now, within two or three years of me, who ran in artsy/gothy high school circles. I can hardly read it now because it's so melodramatic in retrospect, but I'm grateful for all the places it led me. Maybe that's what Catcher in the Rye did for people a few generations before. It may not be my touchstone, but I can't knock any book that's opened those kind of doors for people.

PS-For a much funnier take on misguided Catcher in the Rye worship, check out King Dork by Frank Portman. Can't recommend the book as a whole--loses too much steam by the end--but the Catcher skewering is pretty hilarious.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:32 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ha! I can think of few things more pretentious and phony than using the occasion of a newly released Hollywood blockbuster to try to promote a book as the next, best high school English literature classic. The author should have led with their last paragraph, which is the only thing that matters: Do students get anything out of it?
posted by Skwirl at 9:32 AM on November 4, 2012


OK, I adored Madame Bovary in high school--not the character but the prose--so much that I struggled through it in French for fun right after reading it in English. I often liked assigned reading: Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, and Heart of Darkness remain favorites, again mostly as stylistic treasures.

But Catcher in the Rye wasn't assigned reading. I went back and read it in college (maybe '88 or '89) to see what I'd missed, and I recall it as one of the worst experiences I've had in reading for pleasure. It's likely my expectations were set much too high by what people say about it, but the issues with it were so glaring that I have to suggest dislike of it cannot be dismissed as a matter of the reading context.

I'll admit for one thing that I couldn't work out at the time whether Salinger was himself as inarticulate and repetitive as his main character or just doing a reasonable job emulating the poor diction, mixed registers, redundancy, vacuity, rambling garrulousness, and short sentences we might associate with a teenager's writing, but I didn't check his other work, because I was so disappointed by the points that were clearly artful.

I can't guess how anyone could miss the unreliable narration and dubiousness of the character's point of view, but to my mind, those were the things that made this a one-note novel. There's a single question relevant in retrospect to almost every passage, and that's the problem: it's a single question. Take that away, and what you have is just a litany of adolescent clichés and banal, immature, not to mention gendered/parochial observations that count as insight from the main character's point of view. If Holden Caulfield were a reliable narrator, this would be one of the most boring books ever written--you could throw a rock in the YA section to find a better book.

So if there's a reading context problem, I think it's that this book is best as a school exercise, useful for teaching something elementary and at later points obvious about literature.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:37 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with most high schoolers reading CitR is that the protagonist is basically that one guy in high school that no one really likes, including himself. My idea for a protagonist that at least the boys will enjoy, and which will also be their entry drug into Shakespeare, is Henry V. He's the kid that no one takes seriously and turns out to be the most awesome motherfucker in the history of ever; wins against impossible odds, gets the girl, and the speeches are literally epic.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:40 AM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Man, I love Catcher. Have since I was sixteen (and wrote an epic paper on Holden's walking pneumonia). Holden's a mess. He's not meant to be a hero. He's meant to be a real boy dealing with real problems (his fucking brother's dead. And he has walking pneumonia. And his teacher may or may not have sexually harassed him.) I love Jane, too. Keeping all of her kings in the back row. What kind of shit was she dealing with in her family? Salinger doesn't tell us, and it's like a lot of people I knew in high school where you only see the tip of the iceberg of their dysfunction but you're too wrapped up in your own shit to see it.

One of my goodreads friends hasa very popular review railing against catcher where he says "It takes a certain kind of self-centered prick to look at someone's inability to cope with the reality of death and think 'Hey, that's just like my mild depression over how my parents won't buy me a newer ipod!'" And I think the popularity of that review says something about the privilege of the people who like it, not the people who read Catcher. Because, fuck, I was trying to cope with the reality of death as a teenager. Real death! A dead parent! If you weren't, and couldn't relate to Holden, well good for you. But you were lucky, okay?

Mostly I like Catcher because it's a triumph of voice and Holden's a wicked good unreliable narrator. It's an Important book, and I say this as someone who rails against notions of canon because it's a Good book--well crafted and thoughtful, even though it's crafted as to feel thoughtless (always a coup, when an author can do that). Are there other books worth talking about? Sure. But that's a matter of "and," not a matter of "or."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:00 AM on November 4, 2012 [16 favorites]


I do think an underlying issue with high-school level English literature class curriculums is that they've essentially become the newspapers of the general high-school curriculum: it's not that what they're delivering isn't valuable per-se -- in fact, very much the contrary! -- it's that they bundle together many not-necessarily-related things mostly due to inertia and various institutional factors. This means that curriculum discussions almost immediately result in trying to compare and assess things difficult to weigh against each other or even discuss efficiently.
posted by hoople at 10:04 AM on November 4, 2012


Also I find all the alternate suggestions in this thread pretty hilarious, because I loved many of them (Fahrenheigh 451 and Madame Bovary. Perks was just aight. Felt twee to me, even then.) The novels I wanted to strike out of my experience in high school were Germinale and A Tale of Two Cities. Grapes of Wrath, too, probably. Oh, and Gatsby. Those were the books that didn't speak to me. Classics, all of them. But there's no accounting for taste, even mine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:04 AM on November 4, 2012


I liked Catcher very much, mostly because of the tone. But I liked Nine Stories even more -- and I think it holds up more in 2012 while covering much of the same ground. (Also: I think high school kids should read more short stories, and this is part of the reason why short stories do not perform as well in the literary marketplace, but, well, tangent.)

I'm glad to see Perks of Being a Wallflower finally get a mention here. I read it after someone ten years my junior lent me a well-worn copy, and my mind went there for a Catcher replacement first, even though I liked Black Swan Green very much, because it seems to hold the same status Catcher did among teens 50 years ago.

I'm a little surprised that George Saunders hasn't been mentioned yet -- I think of him as a Vonnegut heir, and it seems like my high-school-teaching generation really loves their Vonnegut, but gets that there's a mismatch of eras in the work.

I'm not the only MeFite who loved Jude the Obscure at 15, am I?
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:06 AM on November 4, 2012


The novels I wanted to strike out of my experience in high school were Germinale and A Tale of Two Cities. Grapes of Wrath, too, probably. Oh, and Gatsby. Those were the books that didn't speak to me. Classics, all of them. But there's no accounting for taste, even mine.

I LOVED those books. I just re-read Geminale recently and enjoyed it again. I was very much not a fan of Catcher, but I think this just underlines that curricula should include a wide range of literature to improve the odds that students will enjoy something and also for educational purposes. While I loved many books I read, I do think the curriculum I went through suffered from a lack of more modernist novels, being so focused on "classics" like Shakespeare and Dickens.
posted by melissam at 10:09 AM on November 4, 2012


PBWK, I read your comment right after reading an essay about Catcher's legacy that talked about Holden's brother's death as a proxy for the horrors of war Salinger witnessed and it really made a lightbulb go off for me. I wish my English teacher had gone into that more, instead of the generic teen angst adolescence/adulthood red herring.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:20 AM on November 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd recommend Like the Red Panda by Andrea Siegel to replace it. It's an amazing book and way better than the few pages I read of Black Swan Green. Also, the protagonist is female.
posted by discopolo at 10:37 AM on November 4, 2012


I loved Tale of Two Cities way after high school.
posted by discopolo at 10:40 AM on November 4, 2012


Catcher in the Rye (I always get it confused with Grapes of Wrath)

Ah, could it be the alcohol? ; )

Whisky from rye; wine from grapes.
posted by ericb at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read several of the classic novels on the High School list on my own when my older brother brought them home, and then I would try to remember the vague details two years later at exam time. I really liked most of the books on the list, and there was some pretty cool stuff like 'A Clockwork Orange' and '1984'. Our list was mostly pretty similar to a generic HS literature list that I think was compiled on AskMeFi a couple of years ago, with several of the titles mentioned above.

When I was young I really liked 'The Catcher..', but today I would just prefer '9 Stories'. My High School teachers made me appreciate how cool Shakespeare can sometimes be. As for Canadian Literature, well, let's just say that the selection has improved a great deal since those days...
posted by ovvl at 10:43 AM on November 4, 2012


The problem is that Catcher in the Rye is no longer a book for cool high school students. Catcher in the Rye is a book for cool high school teachers.
I can't imagine who would think a 60 year-old book was 'cool'. I thought when I was in high school (40-some years ago) that it was then a book for cool high school teachers. It was probably a book for cool students when Eisenhower was president. In the 60's, there were still tons of teachers who thought this was indecent or whatever. It was the rebellious teachers that would give this to a class.
And yes, there were cool high school teachers. I suspect there still are.
posted by MtDewd at 10:44 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The correct answer is TRUE GRIT by Mr Charles Portis. 2nd place is NORWOOD, also by Charles Portis.
posted by Zerowensboring at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


PBWK, I read your comment right after reading an essay about Catcher's legacy that talked about Holden's brother's death as a proxy for the horrors of war Salinger witnessed and it really made a lightbulb go off for me. I wish my English teacher had gone into that more, instead of the generic teen angst adolescence/adulthood red herring.

I recently read a (not very good) bio of Salinger that included summarizes of all of Salinger's short stories, including unpublished ones. It included a summary of "Last Day of the Last Furlough" which revealed that Holden was declared missing in action in WWII. Of course, that was superseded by the continuity of Catcher, but the Caulfield stories generally seemed to be permeated with death. The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls is another one, dealing with a version of Allie (here called "Kenneth") Caulfield's death.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Black Swan Green is really good.
posted by threeants at 10:57 AM on November 4, 2012


I totally agree that making kids read Great Literachoor is what ruins them for ever wanting to read again. In middle school we read almost nothing but depressing books--at the very least, someone's pet had to die. I think the only non-depressing book we were allowed to read was Sarah Plain and Tall, and I hated it because everyone was so stiff and boring. "Will she sing, Papa? Will she sing?" I DON'T CARE. I loved reading because I did it on my own time, but even I hated our school books. That was a trend that continued through the end of college-and yes, I was an English major anyway.

We never read Catcher in my high school because it was far too uplifting and didn't have enough of a body count. We weren't allowed to read anything without a super depressing ending and at least somewhat of a body count, except for Jane Eyre, which was the one schoolbook I ever liked. All Quiet on the Western Front kills almost every single person in the book (I think one isn't mentioned as having died). We dredged through Crime and Punishment, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, etc., etc.. Hell, I had to read Death in Venice, which is about a wannabe pedophile, for fuck's sake. I don't know how the hell that was approved for school at all. In college, the only nondepressing, happy ending books I ever got to read were Emma, which got assigned in three different classes. At least Jane Austen got to be Great Literachoor without tons of slaughter and with happy endings--beats me how she pulled that off.

Shakespeare, on the other hand, can be saved because you can bring people to a play and suddenly it makes more sense and is a billion times more interesting than dredging through trying to read the language. So there's that.

I did read Catcher as an adult and didn't really care for it, but I just figured I'd read it at "too old" an age and wasn't relating to the teenness as well as I was told I should. But hell, even though it was phony, etc., it still beat what I had to read for a grade.

I agree that it'd be nice if kids were allowed to read more interesting, less death-prone books in school. But hah, like that's ever going to happen.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:59 AM on November 4, 2012


I wish I had joined this thread earlier, but I just want to announce this-

Holden Caulfield has Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He arguably has psychological issues rooted in grief over the death of his brother or being bullied as a child. He also may have been sexually molested in his youth, which explains why he recoils at physical touch.

I hope I just made you all feel bad now for hating on a fictional character.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2012


Just going to talk about the book, becuz that's what the link seems to be an excuse for. I remember being in class and being surprised when they said that Hold Caul ends up in a mental hospital. I read a collection of the author's short stories to better understand the book. There's a scene in one where the two characters talk about something merging(?), and it reminded me of the scene in Elfquest where Cutter shows Leetah water merging in cupped hands. Been a while think I should look the passage up again someday if this book stays relevant.

The "catcher in the rye," though, is that a reference to ergot fungi in the rye? I didn't think of the possibility until after finishing it so didn't look for hints other than re-reading the dream scene with the catcher.
posted by saber_taylor at 11:14 AM on November 4, 2012


How about some GIRL coming of age novels - Eyebrows

As for Canadian Literature, well, let's just say that the selection has improved a great deal since those days... - ovvl

Two answer two concerns with one suggestion: A Complicated Kindness - Miriam Toews.
posted by kneecapped at 11:32 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never was assigned Catcher but am still confused as to why a dated scifi novel like Alas Babylon was forced on us in 6th grade. There were so many other better stories out there even then that dealt with the same themes.
posted by emjaybee at 11:50 AM on November 4, 2012


I hope I just made you all feel bad now for hating on a fictional character.

But none of that is news and that isn't what is happening in this thread.

Look, it's a very rare book that can bridge more than two generations. Literature isn't born on a page; its born in a time and place and as the world moves on, that will prove to be either a strength or a weakness for a particular novel. I think kids can still read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry because it illustrates racism in a really relateable way. On the other hand, I am going to assume I'm in the last generation to have read The Boxcar Children, which isn't ageing well. I enjoyed it as a small child in the same way I enjoyed Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but those books have been supplanted by new ones for the current generations.

One day, when today's under-20s are 90, even Harry Potter will seem quaint.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I never had to read Catcher. My high school curriculum, however, did include The Scarlet Letter I could not get past that first chapter where he spends forever lovingly describing an old mill. I failed every test related to that book. I didn't care. I just couldn't make myself pick it up again after that dreary, interminable description of the damn mill.*

I was a voracious reader. I read constantly. But Scarlet Letter stopped me cold. I put it down and went back to reading something I was actually interested in. Probably SF.

* which might be absolutely compelling to me as an adult, hell if I know. I've never even thought of the book until now.
posted by egypturnash at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2012


The classic girl coming of age novel is A Tree Grows. in Brooklyn.

I first learned about catcher when John Lennon was murdered and refused to read it for the next. 5 years. I was only willing to read it when the author of a teen pop psych book raved about it. I liked it then, but much less so when I was in my 20s
posted by brujita at 12:18 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dislike of Catcher in high-school was mostly that I had a really hard time giving a damn about the problems of a rich prep-school kid.

I loved this book so much as a black inner-city girl (bussed out to school in the suburbs) that I still have the library-bound copy that I was given to read in whatever grade it was that it was first assigned. It was my only act of assigned book thievery and every time I see it on my shelf I feel a mixture of guilt and delight. Two years or so ago, my partner and I took turns reading that copy to each other- he'd never read it, and I'm always looking for excuses to reread books that I've already read too many times.

Catcher in the Rye speaks to some people for various reasons, and to other people for various other reasons, and to still others not at all, but that's not any different than any other book. For instance, my favorite part has always been Phoebe's decision to pack her little suitcase and Holden's reaction to that decision (in truth, Phoebe is one of my most adored characters of all time). My partner, on the other hand, thought the scene with the "Fuck you"s written everywhere was the funniest shit. (I agree with him, but I think "Sleep tight, ya morons!" is funnier. My cats are kind of sick of hearing that at night, however.)

Catcher transcends outdated language and poor teachings about nonsense like symbolism and society and teenage alienation, but only if you actually like the book. That's just the way it is with art. I am seriously the only person that I have ever encountered who hated, and continues to hate, The Great Gatsby- I can not, on any level, connect with a book about people concerned with "The American Dream", upward mobility, wealth etc. I just do not get it. But obviously a lot of people do.
posted by eunoia at 12:33 PM on November 4, 2012 [9 favorites]


If an adult says that Catcher in the Rye or Atlas Shrugged is (still) one of their favorite books, I give that statement the *ahem* careful consideration it deserves.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:20 PM on November 4, 2012


Nope. It's a very good book and a classic. Try again, Slate.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:36 PM on November 4, 2012


The classic girl coming of age novel is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

But that's the point: it was, but now it isn't. It was written seventy years ago. It portrays an immigrant and 1st generation experience that is very different than that of today, and options for women that are thankfully 60 years out of date.

I'm pretty sure "classics" are generational.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:48 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Black Swan Green is the worst book David Mitchell ever wrote. Id you're going to go with a coming of age story by him, I don't know why you wouldn't pick Number 9 Dream, which I honestly think is the best book he's written so far.
posted by OrangeDrink at 1:59 PM on November 4, 2012


I wonder whether...the problem lies less with the books than the teaching. (Given that everyone in class has the ability to read the books without too much effort). I really like the idea of the 'book circles' mentioned above - kids get some choice of what to read and then work in targeted groups.

Now, I loathed an awful lot of what we read for class (and I think that if we'd revised the 'everything written by Americans from 1910 - 1970' portion of the curriculum we could have fixed that) but it strikes me that the real killer in English class was boredom during class - sitting around in a class of twenty-five being asked questions and watching the teacher try to elicit some response from the kids. I think most of us could have handled guided discussion in small groups, and it's never as boring/useless when there's really time for everyone to talk.

Also, it wouldn't hurt any to read some funny books, as gets mentioned above. Robertson Davies, for example. The Edible Woman, which is hiLARious, in a quiet way. Margaret Drabble.

It's funny, because when I was in high school I did read, you know, Hard Books. I read Anna Karenina on my own - adored it. Couldn't abide Madame Bovary, which we read in class. My dad had read David Copperfield and Oliver Twist to me when I was younger, and I liked those - but I loathed Great Expectations which we also read in class.

I think the books I liked always had some sweep to them, whether it was Jane Eyre's various adventures or the exotic spectacle of Tolstoy's Russia - and most of the books we read in class were about proving that life was rather small and drab and that people were small, pathetic prisoners of circumstances whose own weaknesses and idiocies would always bring them down - no going down in a blaze of self-destructive glory or persevering nobly through suffering, just the grinding stupid greedy misery of provincial France. For a long time, I did not feel that literature which expressed anything but a New Yorker level of smallness and drabness could possibly be important or good, since surely nothing really enjoyable could be proper. Even Moby Dick, which is both awesome and by-now canonical, seemed rather daring.
posted by Frowner at 2:04 PM on November 4, 2012


On the other hand, I am going to assume I'm in the last generation to have read The Boxcar Children, which isn't ageing well.

The Boxcar Children books are enormously popular among the Orthodox Jewish kids and parents at my local library. We're starting to run short of them -- I'm not sure if they've been reprinted recently...

(Speaking of that, it seems that conservative parents are very often looking for the popular books of the previous generation: books that aren't necessarily religious, but are wholesome and clean and without too many Controversial Social Issues... that's been my experience working with conservative Christians in North Carolina, too.)
posted by Jeanne at 2:09 PM on November 4, 2012


Oh! I just thought of something I got out of Catcher In The Rye -

I used to join in with this massive end-of-the-semester trivia contest the radio station at Williams College in Massachusetts does; and they often have things called "Audio bonuses" as part of the contest, which is like those old radio contests where they play a whole string of teeny-tiny little snips of songs and you have to identify all the songs from the clips. Historically, each audio bonii had a "theme," which we were informed of before they played it, that would help us suss out what each clip was (one of the best - a whole series of clips from Billy Joel songs, in which they played just the bit in which Billy sang "whoa-whoa-whoa" or a variant).

But once, we were informed that this time, the theme was a secret, and we would get extra points for figuring it out. They played the series of clips through twice (and we recorded it, so we could then send a team into a room to listen over and over trying to get each clip). Team Audio Bonus sat listening to it, and after the third listen, I noticed something about the lyrics from each clip all seemed to fit together somehow. As if it were spelling out one unified thing....a unifed thing that sounded familiar....

"oh my god!" I suddenly shouted. "It's the opening sentence of Catcher In The Rye!"

We were housed in a library, so we ran to pull a copy of the book, looked up the sentence, and worked backward now that we had the lyrics. We had the highest score in that round, but sadly came in only third. I was still celebrated for my feat, and I owe at least that much to Catcher in the Rye.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we've hit the end of Slate, and the tape has started over from the beginning. Years ago, they ran an article railing against Catcher, saying it was old and dated and didn't deserve the place it had in high school English, let alone any sort of reference. That was the first time I ever made a comment online, and Slate is recycling, screw it, so can I.

I said something to the effect that, as an adult, there are several books I was assigned in school that, at the time I read them, had a deeply profound effect on me. Catcher was one, as were To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, and Lord of the Flies among others. For the most part, they aren't books that I find myself able to go back to. Something about myself as an adult is different enough that I'll make it a chapter or two through the book and set it aside because it doesn't speak to me now.

That doesn't mean, in any way, that they have no value, and need to be replaced. The fact is, when I encountered Catcher for the first time, it was a ray of light. It transported me away from the awful shit that I had to deal with on a daily basis (which most 14 year olds suffer through, but with the kind of social circle that makes Alive and Well on a Friendless Voyage look like a friendly neighborhood get together), and it let me know that I wasn't, in fact, as horribly alone as I thought. Holden doesn't speak to me now. He doesn't speak to this reviewer anymore either, or most adults, simply because most of us are pretty embarrassed about how overly dramatic we were as young adults. When a teen close to us bursts into tears because their first relationship has ended, and we don't get it, because we don't understand what love is, we know what they're going through, but really, what can we say? Similarly, Holden can be, and often was the first time many teens heard someone speaking directly to them, saying, hey, all this is bullshit. As adults, we look back, embarrassed by our teen awkwardness, by our ridiculous beliefs, but none of that lessens the power of the experiences we were having at that time. Any adult urge to deny or trivialize the power of those first experiences is, to me, suspect. Fuck that, it's phony.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:41 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I LOVED EVERY BOOK I EVER READ IN ENGLISH CLASS
posted by zscore at 2:57 PM on November 4, 2012


I think it's worth noting that this thread has a ton of comments not only because there are many bookish Mefites, but also because Catcher has been assigned reading for many users and is therefore a shared experience. This is probably more important nowadays when everyone is doing their thing in their own online niches.

I didn't really " get" Madam Bovary until I danced with an aging duke.

That's the weirdest euphemism I've heard lately for swallowing arsenic.
posted by ersatz at 4:46 PM on November 4, 2012


I read The Catcher in the Rye twice. First time I was twelve and I hated it. Second time I was sixteen and I enjoyed it. I also, much more recently, read Black Swan Green and I thought it was excellent.

I think the problem is not with either of these books but with the idea that there is one perfect book that will really speak to everyone in a high school English class and that captures some mystical spirit of teenagerdomness. Teach one of them, teach both of them, teach lots of different books and expect that different people will respond differently to them.

In that spirit, I think that adding newer books into the mix of assigned high school readings is a good idea, and Black Swan Green is a worthy contender for that, but don't think that you are going to find that magical title that connects with everyone.
posted by pie_seven at 4:55 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read Catcher in the Rye freshman year of high school - it was not specifically assigned, but it was on a list of books we could choose for book reviews. I loved it then and it is still one of my all-time favorite books.

If we're looking for a book to remove from required reading, I say Moby Dick. Nobody I knew actually liked that book.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:19 PM on November 4, 2012


Part of the problem with the high school English curriculum is that English class is too short for what the teachers are supposed to teach. If you have to teach writing as well as literature (which is the case in most high school English classes), you do it in a 40-minute period along with grammar, vocabulary, and (these days) SAT prep and college essay-writing, and the writing you assign is writing about literature. Generally, analytical papers. And there isn't a lot of leeway in those darn papers, especially if your English teacher was an English major and therefore learned how to jump through all those hoops him- or herself.

And it's worse these days, what with "accountability" which general means rigid adherence to whatever curriculum gets tested. I have no idea why people think making education better means taking all the leeway out of it. Didn't they have childhoods? Didn't they have teachers who bent the rules for them? Did marvelous things that weren't in the lesson plan?

I was lucky that one of my high school English teachers assigned, in between the other papers, what she called "Response Writing" which could be about Anything At All. I still remember some of the pieces I wrote. They were undoubtedly not nearly as good as I thought they were back then.

As I recall, she was also the one who told me that my list of books I read over the summer could include books that weren't on the list, which promptly made my summer reading about six times bigger.
posted by Peach at 6:25 PM on November 4, 2012


If anyone actually assigns Moby-Dick in high school, I can't imagine how you could fit the darn thing into a semester. It's humongous.
posted by Peach at 6:26 PM on November 4, 2012


"For the most part, they aren't books that I find myself able to go back to. Something about myself as an adult is different enough that I'll make it a chapter or two through the book and set it aside because it doesn't speak to me now."

When I think about my best-loved books, some books grow with me and continue to reveal their riches to me over time, and some books are a single moment of perfection that can't be recaptured or revisited and invariably taste of disappointment if I try.

The other thing, when I think about high school English (where I really had a wonderful curriculum and spectacular teachers and which I enjoyed a lot), is that reading classics when you're impressionable seeps them into your soul, but sometimes you're too young to fully appreciate them. I got a lot more out of The Great Gatsby reading it a couple years ago for The Big Read than I did reading it in high school (when I quite enjoyed it, but rereading it now, clearly a lot of the subtleties went over my head), but reading it when I was still a teenager made it much more influential to me than it would have otherwise been.

On the other hand I somehow managed to miss To Kill a Mockingbird until I was in my 20s and experiencing it for the first time as an adult was just magical. I was simultaneously angry that I hadn't read it years earlier and delighted to experience something so beautiful for the first time, fresh and new. Middlemarch was another one. The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I just read a couple years ago and GEEZ. The Blue Castle. I sort-of want to hoard classics I haven't read yet so I can have that experience of The First Time over and over again. But I guess there's enough great books in the world to keep me busy, and I guess you never know which ones will strike you that way.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:31 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


my list of books I read over the summer could include books that weren't on the list

On my summer vacation I learned about Russell's Paradox!
posted by RogerB at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read a Separate Peace in middle school. It was good for me at that time. The Outsiders too. CINTR I just couldn't relate to Colden, a bitter doormat.
posted by joseppi7 at 7:01 PM on November 4, 2012


You know what we read in high school that was absolutely brilliant and I have no idea how it made it on to the curriculum? Something Wicked This Way Comes. Just an absolutely fucking fantastic book and the only connection I can make to anything else I read in sophomore year was that we had just finished Macbeth.
posted by maryr at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2012


Hating Catcher in the Rye is the new black.
posted by zardoz at 7:26 PM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having taught high school English for 25 years in the USA, I have to say that the my students' response to reading Catcher in the Rye has been all over the map. I do not assign it any more. Part of reading anything from another generation is understanding the cultural context. This is the complaint I see above, for the most part. I get it. Reading Mark Twain or Jonathan Swift or Jane Austen, a reader must surmount the same obstacles: understanding the socio-cultural-historical context. Some kids relish that challenge; most don't. Catch-22 was a revelation to us Baby Boomers. To other newer readers who instinctively question authority...not so much.

Although I should mention that one of my students, an ATV fanatic, read Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, and said it was the only book he ever enjoyed. So it goes. (Yeah, from another V novel, but...)

Anyway, I use five passages from Catcher in the Rye in which the narrator weighs in on the intersection between art and commerce (Remember Ernie and his piano-playing?) to illustrate how an author can use a relatively uneducated narrator to make some pretty astute points. Not unlike the "unreliable narrator" technique, used by the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, told by an autistic narrator.

Funny, the same day this came out on Slate last week, a woman my age (60) was bemoaning the fact that the new crowd of prospective English teachers had not read Catcher in the Rye. A less than useful rant, I think.

Well, times change. I've ordered the "New Catcher in the Rye" by D.M. I'm sure it's good.
posted by kozad at 7:58 PM on November 4, 2012


High school students never, ever "treasure" the books that schoolteachers force down their throats. They don't want to be there, hate their teachers, and wish the whole building would die in a fire. I remember thinking that I had a real life to go out and enjoy, if only Mrs. "Battleaxe" Drake would shut up about Christ Figures and whan that Aprill.
Uh, yeah, no. I loved nearly every book we read in high school, and I think I appreciated them all. Most of my peers were the same, or at least had a few treasures. When I read Catcher in the Rye in my 20s, I wished someone would've given it to me when I was younger because I would've sympathized with it all. Sorry, but your experience does not generalize to everyone's.
posted by !Jim at 8:15 PM on November 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


From the article: In 2012, a teenager’s parents are likely to have read—and loved—Catcher in the Rye as young people. For most teenagers, an authority figure’s approval is the kiss of death. Salinger’s classic might still speak to a high schooler—and it still does to some teens—but it certainly won’t be a private conversation.

The author seems to think that the approval of Old People is a new development in the history of Catcher in the Rye. When I first read CitR at age 13 (back in 1997-98), I read my dad's copy. CitR is 16 years older than my own parents. If this whole "ew, my parents like this" thing is actually a problem, it's not even close to being a new problem.

FWIW, I identified with Holden the first time I read it (and the second time I read it, when it was assigned in school the following year), and for awhile it was my favorite book. Then sometime around college I decided he was totally insufferable and it was a stupid book. And then eventually I figured it out, but it's still something I'll never love the way I did in my early teens. Franny and Zooey (which also took a turn as my favorite book) is dearer to me, but it also feels a bit too "college" in the way that Catcher feels too "high school." Nine Stories, though...I don't see ever getting tired of Nine Stories.
posted by naoko at 8:30 PM on November 4, 2012


6 years older than my parents, not 16 - that would make them quite young, though not impossibly so.
posted by naoko at 8:45 PM on November 4, 2012


Just throwing this out there - what was that crappy "coming of age" teen novel I had to read in high school that had the character they called "M & M" freaking out in an acid trip? I can't for the life of me remember the title, but I always thought it was the "anti-Catcher" novel for the angsty generation in the mid-70s.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:38 PM on November 4, 2012


Never mind. It was That Was Then, This Is Now.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:39 PM on November 4, 2012


I have no idea whether Black Swan Green is good or not because take away the stutter and add in some apathy and Black Swan Green is my biography – of course I loved it. An 80s provincial flashback that covers just about everything & everyone, as a period piece Mitchell nails it. I read it in amazement and advised my wife that she could learn more about my youth from David Mitchell than I could ever satisfactorily express myself.
posted by niceness at 10:24 PM on November 4, 2012


@darlingbri:
Francie gets white collar jobs at a clipping service and a telegraph office, is off to college at the end of the book, has to deal with the fact her mother loves her brother better, nearly gets attacked by a rapist, encounters both mean and supportive teachers, gets her heart broken by someone who was just using her.....except for the types of jobs, all part of the human experience today.
posted by brujita at 10:48 PM on November 4, 2012


octothorpe: My dislike of Catcher in high-school was mostly that I had a really hard time giving a damn about the problems of a rich prep-school kid.

Me, too: and I say that as a kid who was at a pricey, Catholic school.

--

I have been reading the book "Queen Bees and Wannabees" lately, and it strikes me that the social currents among adolescents that are played out in Catcher in the Rye -- or maybe even in Lord of the Flies -- are simpler that what kids really face these days. My daughter is very smart yet I see her racing through these recent paperbacks that all center on how terrible cliques of brand-obsessed teen girls are. I hope she is gawking and not relating or, worse, taking lessons.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:21 AM on November 5, 2012


In junior high my brainy friend actually read I, Claudius -- and Claudius the God, IIRC -- for fun. When he handed in a book report on one of them, our stupid English teacher Mr. Weber didn't believe he'd actually read the book.

The teacher simply couldn't accept that there were kids with the curiosity, drive, and education to read things like that. And a teacher with that attitude always put an upwards limit on what their students can do.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:38 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


No love for Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:41 AM on November 5, 2012


Yeah, we read on our own 'I Claudius/Claudius the God' right after watching that violent and trippy 70's BBC miniseries. My History teacher was okay with that. There's actually a brief reference to it in the beginning of the movie 'Almost Famous'. Still a favourite book of mine, I've re-read it several times. But... I really wouldn't want to force anyone else to read it. It's not that kind of book.

(Also, left me wondering why John Hurt didn't get more roles as a raving lunatic, he was really good at that).
posted by ovvl at 8:10 AM on November 5, 2012


No love for Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction?

I'm guessing that if we took a poll 'Nine Stories' might win.
posted by ovvl at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2012


Salinger is a classic case of a midcentury writer who was grossly overrated in his own time. CITR is a teriffic novel, but giving it canonical status was exactly the sort of thing the multicultural movement in the 90s coalesced in objection to. Holden's waspy, privileged lifestyle was utterly alien to me, not that books should be only about the familiar. But the idea of having a kid read it today makes no sense whatsoever. As for Franny and Zooey, etc. those books were unreadable at the time and almost nauseating today. They're like Wes Anderson movies with no humor and a layer of sanctimony.

The main reason it was assigned was because it was thought to reasonate with young people. For precisely that reason, it should go in the "classics" pile no one reads, along with Winesburg, Ohio and the collected works of Joe Hurgesheimer. I would sooner assign U.S.A. or, in a more modern vein, A Scanner Darkly or -- you know what? -- something they have heard of and I haven't.
posted by Balok at 8:43 AM on November 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey, I like Winesburg, Ohio.

Granted, I didn't read it until I was in my late 20's, but still.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:07 AM on November 5, 2012


Yeah, wait, what, Winesburg, Ohio? It sure wasn't dated in 1992 when I read it, so why would it be dated now?

And yes, Raise High the Roofbeam + Seymour is amazing in its own weird and singular way.
posted by escabeche at 4:33 PM on November 5, 2012


Sherwood Anderson seemed a bit dated to me when I was young, but now I think he's swell.
posted by ovvl at 6:36 PM on November 5, 2012


karma becomes real: kids in 2060 are reading John Franzen

in book format

not because of apocalypse but because e-readers are considered unstylish
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:19 AM on November 10, 2012


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