Book Review

Salinger dies at 91, leaves a novel for the generations

By David Han
Published: February 2010

English teacher David Weintraub has never taught The Catcher in the Rye, but he remembers first reading the novel in his senior year of high school. It ruined his second semester.

Weintraub recalls alienating himself from his friends. The book had a profound impact not just on how he viewed the world, but on how he acted in it. He eventually grew out of his secluded behavior, but he can still recount the novel’s effect on him.

“Not many books do that, Weintraub said.

Literary recluse Jerome David Salinger, author of Catcher, died at the age of 91 in late January. The stories he left in novels such as The Catcher in the Rye will continue to touch readers since its publication date nearly 60 years ago.

Salinger holds a history of protecting his privacy. The author lived in isolation for over half of his life and even appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent writers from quoting his letters for a biography.

English teacher Alan Reinstein believes Salinger is as famous for being a recluse as he is for writing the book itself. Reinstein has taught The Catcher in the Rye for over 10 years, and he enjoys emphasizing the importance of relevance, how every sentence in the novel is intentional.

Reinstein feels Salinger’s death may change how readers read the novel.

“[Salinger,] as an author, is part of the story in The Catcher in the Rye, he said. “It is part of the context of reading the book.

English Department Head Brian Baron believes, however, that Salinger’s death will have little to no effect on the novel’s analysis.

“[Salinger] has been so distant from the world for so long that I don’t think his living has affected the way we taught the book, so I don’t think his death will, Baron said.

Senior Suzanne Lau is unsure whether the book’s study will change, but feels that Salinger  chose to include some of his own childhood memories in the novel as “a reminder that we all have a certain child within us.

Salinger’s passing, Lau believes, will bring many people to read his novels for the first time or to reread them.

“I know that I have a copy of Franny and Zooey somewhere, and I might just start that so I can get a feel of his writing style’€as a way to pay tribute for his death, she said.

Lau first heard of Salinger’s death in her English class. When she went home, she posted a short message of the author’s passing on her email’s status board.

“I did it out of respect so other people would know, she said. “I thought [Salinger's death] was pretty sad. I feel like I had some sort of connection.

Lau has told some of her friends who have never heard of Salinger about the author’s life accomplishments.

Lau and her classmates noted The Catcher in the Rye as one of the books that stood out in her high school career.

“It’s the type of book that you either hate or love, she said.

“Holden’s voice continues to feel contemporary for students, Reinstein said. “To know who Holden Caulfield is is to tap into a particular type of person. To me, it’s his naivety that I find so endearing.

Baron, who has read the book in high school, in college, and at South where he taught the book for five years, said that each time reading the novel affects him differently.

“When I read it as a sophomore, it felt like the truth, like someone was speaking to me in a way not spoken to me before. I didn’t know you could use words that way, he said.

“And when I started teaching it, I started to almost be offended by it because it struck me that Salinger was really arguing against maturity and adulthood. Salinger was really saying that there is no way out, that growing up is really a process of inevitably becoming phony.

“I just didn’t agree with that in part because I was an adult and I realized that I didn’t want to live a life that was inevitably false, inevitably phony.

Salinger is a tremendously gifted wordsmith, according to Baron. Baron has been checking the Internet to see if more of Salinger’s writing has been discovered and published posthumously.

Baron and Lau’s respective classes plan to re-read The Catcher in the Rye this semester.

Baron hopes his students, after three years of schooling, will encounter the same experience he has had with the book.

“I’m pretty excited about it, Lau said. “I’m not so certain that I personally understood everything as a 9th grader. That’s why I’m glad we might be revisiting it.

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