Opinion: Sixty years later, still a good read



Mike Crissman

It has been linked to murders. It is rebellious. It is promiscuous. It contains excessive swearing, drinking and smoking.

It is “The Catcher in the Rye.”

The 1951 novel written by J.D. Salinger follows a troubled teenager, Holden Caulfield, as he spends three days in New York City on his own after

getting kicked out of school for failing his classes. Not much happens plot-wise in the book, but nonetheless it is a realistic coming-of-age story that accurately describes the process of self-maturation each person must go through.

The book has its high points and low points — one of the low points being the main character and the annoying traits he possesses. Caulfield is whines and complains more, than any character in the history of literature. He constantly describes the people, places and things he encounters as “phony” and often says he’s depressed because of them.

Despite this flaw, Salinger’s book is a classic masterpiece. “The Catcher in the Rye” has been a staple of high school English classes for decades and as close to required reading as you can get. I, myself, had to read it as an 11th grader. I remember enjoying the book so much that I “forgot” to turn my copy in when our class finished reading it. I know, stealing literature is such an outlaw thing to do.

Though, as much as the book is widely adored, it is equally controversial. Holden’s mini-vacation in a fictional 1949 NYC is full of drunkenness, debauchery and vulgarity. For generations, concerned educators and parents have attempted to ban the novel. Some argue the book is inappropriate for teens because it is, at times, sexually explicit and contains offensive language.

To the chagrin of worried adults, and the thrill of many students, there is excessive use of the F-word and g-damn. Because of such issues, “The Catcher in the Rye” routinely makes the American Library Association’s annual list of most frequently challenged books in the United States, even to this day.

The book has also gained notoriety over the years because of its association with high profile assassination attempts. A copy of the novel was found on Mark David Chapman when he was arrested for killing John Lennon. Another copy was found in the hotel room of John Hinckley Jr. after his assassination attempt on former President Ronald Reagan. Numerous other murderers have expressed a fondness for the novel with the emotionally troubled protagonist.

Recently, a Swedish author has attempted to publish “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye.” The book depicts a 76-year-old Holden escaping a retirement home to head to NYC. Salinger’s estate has brought legal action against the book, calling it an unauthorized rip off. Before Salinger died last year, the reclusive author expressed strong opposition to the book. A U.S. judge recently ruled the Swede’s book could not be published in North America.

While I don’t see much harm in what is basically a work of fan fiction, I do understand Salinger’s family wanting to protect and control the legacy of what is a truly great novel. The fact that someone wants to write a sequel to a book that came out 60 years ago is a testament to “The Catcher in the Rye’s” true longevity.

Mike Crissman is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]