Catcher in the Rye and High School English

Recently on Weekend Edition, Scott Simon interviewed a professor from Oberlin, Anne Trubek, about an article she’d written for Good magazine. She believes The Catcher in the Rye should be retired as part of the English/Language Arts curriculum in high schools. Today’s students no longer identify with Holden Caulfield, a white, upper class, prep school student, she contends. Simon pushed her pretty hard, saying, “But it’s a CLASSIC!” Trubek reminded him that TCITR was itself an “instant classic,” deemed so just a few years after its publication.

We all remember having various “classics” shoved down our throats in high school, when we were too immature and inexperienced to appreciate them. A friend still hates The Good Earth because she had to read it in 10th grade. I’m reading it right now for my book club, and I can understand why a 15-year-old wouldn’t connect with it. My sister’s son was required to read Pride and Prejudice his senior year, and of course he hated it. Really, expecting a teenage boy to find anything to relate to in Jane Austen is a stretch, even for me, an Austen fanatic.

Prof. Trubek suggests several books which may resonate more with teens than some of the old stand-bys. Contemporary YA novels get my vote–I never have understood why they’re not used in the schools. A few from recent years that would inspire great discussions: Luna, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, The Book Thief, Elsewhere, Life As We Knew It, Slam, Samurai Shortstop, and there are plenty of crossovers, too, such as The Kite Runner.

2 comments on “Catcher in the Rye and High School English

  1. The first book my son read for sophmore English was All Quiet On The Western Front, a “classic” that he really enjoyed. I am looking forward to the end of the school year when they will read contemporary novel, The Secret Life of Bees. I’ll keep you posted on his pick for the year.

  2. Thanks for reading, Dana. All Quiet on the Western Front is a good choice during wartime. I’m glad Austin liked it. His pick…he gets to choose a book of his own, like last year?

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