holden caulfield, ponyboy curtis, and my teen book club

"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

Recognize it?

For me it's one of the most memorable final sentences ever written.

I just finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, possibly for the first time since reading it (twice) in high school. I remembered it in a theoretical way, but had forgotten the details. It's a funny, sad, perfect little book.

I'm not breaking any new ground when I call Catcher the original young-adult novel. Every John Green and Ned Vizzini and Stephen Chbosky narrator, every wise-cracking alienated youth straight through to Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars, inherits their voice from Holden. Catcher, published in 1951, is more influential now than when S. E. Hinton started to write The Outsiders only 13 years later.

I had the perfect incentive to re-read Catcher: it's this month's selection for my teen book club. The core group of members are bored with cookie-cutter youth novels. They want substance. Over the past year, we've read The Outsiders, Fahrenheit 451, The Golden Compass and Ender's Game, now Catcher, and later To Kill A Mockingbird. They know they'll read some of these titles for school, but they want to read them now, with our group.

We have quality newer titles on the list, too: M. T. Anderson's Feed, Saving Houdini, historical magic realism set in Toronto, Kelley Armstrong's Loki's Wolves, and of course, the incomparable Eleanor & Park. But I find their thirst for classics so touching and inspiring.

I won't be the youth-services librarian at Central Library forever. Whenever I do move on, I will miss this group.


Anonymous said...

A few additions:
Harry Potter
Hunger Games
Lord of the Flies
About a Boy

James Redekop said...

Speaking of John Green, he hosted "Crash Course English Literature", which features Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird among the titles covered.

laura k said...

A few additions

Additions to...?

laura k said...

I enjoy Green's Crash Course, but I wish there was a text format. I have no time or patience for watching those vids.

laura k said...

I'm trying to figure out if liamyoung2323's list is suggestions for my book club, or narrators who inherit their voices from Holden Caulfield. Either way, the list makes little sense. Perhaps he will come back to explain.

allan said...

I thought they were suggestions.

James Redekop said...

I believe the Crash Course Patreon campaign is trying to get funds for doing transcripts & teaching materials.

laura k said...

Ok then. Harry Potter is way too young, all the teens have already read it.

Hunger Games they've all read, and our book club did it the year it came out. Although I love the book and frequently recommend it to teens.

About A Boy, not good for teens. (Plus not good for me.)

Lord of the Flies is a possibility. I'm not sure I can get enough copies.

And thank you for the suggestions!

Marie Snyder said...

I love Catcher, but I love it now. When I read it as a teenager, I hated it. Then I re-read it a few years ago preparing to teach it and fell in love with it. I wonder if some teens hate it because it's not entirely from a teenage view, but from a middle-age man's view looking back into the teenage world. I find when I teach it, many kids have no patience for Holden. They don't sympathize with him. They think he's whiney and self-absorbed. But they're too close to their own experiences of adolescence to see themselves as teenagers the way Salinger does from a distance. I mean, they don't see their own self-absorption or their own innocence. Many YA novels succeed with teens because they capture the teen experience from the inside - how teens see themselves and their experiences. But Catcher captures that from the inside and outside - how a teenager really is. Holden is much more flawed in uncomfortable ways than teens might be prepared to relate to. But when we look back at it from the distance of a decade or more, we can feel for him and for ourselves as we struggled through all that crap. That being said, I imagine the kind of kids who would join a book club are likely more introspective than a typical teenager - than I certainly was at that age.

laura k said...

Thanks, Marie. Interesting analysis.

I can definitely see Holden coming off as self-absorbed and whiny, but I disagree that his POV is from a middle-age man looking back. There's none of the self-awareness or self-criticism that would come with that distance.

He has almost no perspective on his feelings. The only distance you get is a glimpse from his former teacher, who predicts that Holden is heading for a fall. That's the middle-age perspective, but it's very brief, and towards the end of the book.

I don't know if the book club participants are more introspective than other teens, but they are definitely open to diverse reading experiences, more than many other teens. We shall see!

Amy said...

I almost never re-read books. Too many new ones I've not yet read. But about two years ago I decided to re-read Catcher. It might have been something you wrote about re-reading books that prompted me to do it. I had read it in high school and liked it, but not really gotten it. When I'd hear people talk about it later on, I knew I had missed something. So I re-read it some 40 years after first reading it. Perspective helps a lot. I actually found Holden a lot funnier and smarter than I had when I was a kid. It would be interesting to see whether teens today are more sophisticated than I was as a teen.

laura k said...

I love that, Amy. I had forgotten how funny Holden was.

I have no idea what I thought about Catcher in high school, but I know I loved it.

I rarely re-read books, for the same reason. But I have found it wonderful to re-read some that are very important to me, and to read them at different times in my life. It's a very finite list: 1984 (I've read it every 10 years since high school), The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, Winter's Tale.

Also, the books I've re-read for Teen Book Club - The Outsiders, Catcher, TKAM (to come) - take only a day or two. Not a big time commitment.

laura k said...

It would be interesting to see whether teens today are more sophisticated than I was as a teen.

I can almost guarantee it.

johngoldfine said...

It may be too adult for your group, but there are some wonderful extended chapters about jhs and hs, family, parents, first loves, and so on in Gabriel Roth's 'The Unknowns.'

johngoldfine said...

Oh, remembering other books now!


'Too Cool' by Duff Brenna.

laura k said...

Thanks for those! I'm skeptical that our library would own a sufficient number of copies, but it's worth a look.

laura k said...

Also they may be good to recommend outside of Teen Book Club.