EDITOR: To dismiss "The Catcher in the Rye" as "crap" is to misread a novel that speaks to today's teens as strongly as it did when first published. Teresa Mariani ("Give teens better books than 'Catcher in the Rye,' " Close to Home, Sunday) falls into the trap of judging a book by its cover.
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, is far from a "shallow jerk." He cares deeply about his fellow humans. A teen trying to find his way in life, he is appalled at the hypocrisy and injustice he encounters on his journey of self-discovery. Huck Finn underwent a similar coming-of-age experience. It's a discovery young people have struggled with since, probably, forever, one perhaps Mariani missed.
Holden, trying to hold on to the innocence of youth, ultimately recognizes that he cannot change the world. Witness his understanding of the futility of attempting to erase every graffito"F" word. Witness also Holden's undying love for people, even those who wrong him. "He wasn't too bad a guy," he says, or "You had to feel sorry for her." Yes, love thy fellow man.
At the book's conclusion, Holden says, "That's all I'm going to say." He has said it all. It is through such literature that we come to understand ourselves.
Reading for teens
EDITOR: In the main, I thought Teresa Mariani's thoughts seemed right. It's time to kick Holden Caulfield to the curb, and J.D. Salinger, too. I just can't shake the fact that what I read when I was young so influenced me in some very negative ways. "Lord of the Flies" made me suspicious of the world. And yet I am now a mediator, and if I trace the roots of what led me here, it was reading "Franny and Zooey."
I would like to add Elizabeth Strout's books to Mariani's suggestions for teen reading. "Amy and Isabelle" would seem like a teen-aged girls crucible. Strout is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Rebel and 'Rye'
EDITOR: Thanks for printing the hilarious, long overdue and very accurate commentary by Teresa Mariani about giving teenage students something better to read than "The Catcher in the Rye." It certainly made my day. This letter should have been published 50 years ago, but I have never seen this sentiment elsewhere.
Don't stop there — let's take on another highly overrated cultural icon of the same period, the movie "Rebel Without a Cause."
Roger Ebert noted that "the film has not aged well" and that James Dean's anguished howl seems to owe more to acting class than to his character. Ebert continued, "Seen today, it plays like a Todd Solondz movie in which characters with bizarre problems perform a charade of normal behavior," and that "it desperately wants to say something but doesn't know what it is."
I always say that, growing up in the 1950s and '60s, we had the best cars and the best music, but even so, there are exceptions, and these are two of the most obvious.
Relating to Holden
EDITOR: I can tell by Teresa Mariani's list of suggested books at the end of her Close to Home column that she has an excellent taste in books. That's why her slam on "The Catcher in the Rye" surprised me so much.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here