Thursday, September 4, 2008

Random Thursday

I'm a librarian. I see a lot of stuff about books. You just can't believe how much people write about writing!

To be honest, most of the information is pretty dull. Every now and then, I find an article that intrigues me, and makes we want to know what other people think about the topic. This is what Random Thursday is all about.

NPR recently ran a piece by a professor who recommended taking Catcher in the Rye off the standard High School Reading List. She felt it was dated, and didn't really catch heart of the "coming of age" novel any longer. She proposed a list of possible titles (scroll down to see her proposed list) to replace Catcher in the Rye.

What do you think? Did you read Catcher in the Rye in high school? Was it the best thing you ever read, and did it touch your psyche? Or was it "Ho Hum, another stupid book on the list that doesn't relate to me at all..."

I'll be honest. I never read Catcher. I don't have an opinion. But I'd love to hear yours! Use the Comment link below to share your thoughts!


Anonymous said...

My son, 19, just read Catcher in the Rye by choice and loved it. He said that the style of writing was similar to his own. Not so out of date, I think.

WLV Library

CCSD Teacher said...

I didn't read Catcher in high school in the 1980s, perhaps because I switched to writing and Humanities courses in the upper years.

However, it was in a Humanities course that a fellow student said Catcher was his favourite book and it was banned from the school. Of course I had to run to the public library to (literally) check it out!

(Oh, and he was wrong. I later saw the book sitting on a rack in our school library with no fanfare. The PR/hooplah that comes with banning is even more effective than I thought!)

I loved the book. If you've ever cried "People suck!" to the heavens, you have to give Holden C. a chance. Granted, rereads over the years have stopped holding up; but, as a young person, it was wonderful to find someone else on the outside who wanted to do good, but who was overwhelmed by the games people play.

That's something teens get: confusion, frustration, earnestness. It's pretty timeless.

That said, as a CCSD English teacher, I'd never assign Catcher, at least not in a regular class. I have a colleague who does it, and the kids all end up hating it.

First, the majority of kids in our classes hate reading as it is. When I teach connotation and use the word "book," the rain of disdain begins, and it's a gullywasher. No sane teacher takes a personal fave and makes it (try to) claw up from that position.

Second, most of the kids in this district don't do homework. They don't come from cultures where school is valued/stressed. (It's week three of the new school year. I don't even want to talk about how many kids checked in the second week due to extended vacations, or how many are taking off a week NOW.) So, if you want them to read something, you have to read it in class. Anything of substance is going to be killed by the stilted in-class reading. Best to grab one of those contemporary novels the author of the article loves, and throw it into the "lit circle" pen.

No wonder the book just dies in the regular classes. Add in some admin-mandated "frequent comprehension checks" in the form of writing assignments and worksheets, and this introspective pleasure read leaves kids ranting harder against the crazy nerdy "underworld" of lit lovers (because "nobody they know reads - spit! - NOVELS") and its conspiracy to bore all teens to death.

That said, I'd use Catcher in a heartbeat in an advanced class. I've taught many of Salinger's short stories here to such classes, and the kids don't mind the old-fashioned settings and language. (If anything, it's the first thing that amuses them and gets their attention.) They like his style and always seem to find a lot to discuss, even if not personally entertained by the story. (But then, that's the difference between regular/Honors and AP classes: the latter doesn't treat school as a television.)

Yes, there are other coming-of-age stories, and maybe some people do overdrool when it comes to Catcher, but the book has a main character who really hasn't been replaced. Here is someone who yearns to be of purpose to the world (the "catcher in the rye"), but he's suffering the fact that the people of the world are such a disappointment. The book ends, with no "movie of the week" lesson-learning; at best, there is the understanding that only experience and maturity can (maybe) heal Holden's soul.

Resolution, but with a hundred questions hovering in the air - you have to love it!

(Instead, the author would have kids *watch* Freaks and Geeks, or read the Lifetime Movie that is Speak? You don't have to like Catcher to see that those apples aren't even *shaped* like this orange!)