Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Banned Books and The Catcher in the Rye

This week is banned books week. There are a lot of books I love that have landed on this list over the years: To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm and the Harry Potter series to name a few. But today I want to write about my least favorite book from this list: The Catcher in the Rye.

I studied Children’s Literature in my graduate program and one of the books I was assigned to read was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I came into the book with no preconceived notions—the title felt familiar to me—I had heard of it in passing but knew nothing of the book itself. I read it and strongly disliked the book.

I came to class that week not excited for the discussion at all. But in the course of the discussion, a classmate of mine said, “Holden Caulfield is my hero,” and my ears perked up. She went on to tell how this book was so meaningful to her as a teenager and she looked up to Holden Caulfield – he was her childhood hero. My first thought was, “Wow. We had very different childhoods.” As I went on to listen to her, I came to realize what great value this book held for her. By the end of the class I didn’t like the book anymore than when I began, but I saw its value.

Ironically, the book we discussed the very next week was Little Women—talk about two different books! I read the book while underlining passages and using the back of my hand to wipe away my tears. That class started out with a collective groan from many of the students because they had found the book so boring. The juxtaposition of these two books and my experience with Little Women and my classmate’s experience with The Catcher in the Rye showed me, in a very real way, the need for a diversity of books.

My initial thought of “Wow. We had very different childhoods” was true. We grew up in different homes, in different states, and in different circumstances, so it only makes sense that we would be drawn to different books. Often in the banned books dialogue, we talk about how people who seek to ban books might like the books they try to ban if they actually read them. This may be true in some circumstances. However, I think the more important discussion is about the value a book holds for someone else, even if it is a book that you don’t like, think is inappropriate, or would never have your child read.  

Every year when banned books week rolls around, I think of The Catcher in the Rye and I hope it, and other books like it, make it into the hands of someone like my classmate—for whom it was the perfect book at the perfect time.