Last week the famous J.D. Salinger passed away, which lead to an internet riot of people either mourning–some respectfully, some deeply–or people taking pot shots at Salinger and his most famous character, Holden Caulfield. The funny thing is, most of the people commenting on the book really don’t know anything about how the book was received, its context, and why it was a hallmark book, and why perhaps it is disliked by so many contemporary readers. (My own theory is that many books that are taught in schools are going to be disliked, because a certain amount of students are going to dislike reading anything they are forced to read.) But over at Collen Lindsay’s blog, The Swivet, you can read a guest post by my friend Richard Bowes, who was a young adult at the time Catcher in the Rye was released. It’s an insightful post for anyone interested in Salinger, Holden Caulfield, the 1950s in America, and YA literature in general.
Does this make Catcher in the Rye great literature? No. But when it came out it was unique, a novel read mainly by young people, some of them very young at a time when YA as a category didn’t exist. There were only adult novels and a substratum of novels for children and very young teens.
By the time Salinger finally produced Franny and Zooey and got on the cover of Time Magazine, two other novels that also appealed to the young – Lord of the Flies (1954) and A Separate Peace (1959) – had started to get mentioned along with Catcher.
Like The Catcher in the Rye, these novels weren’t written for adolescents; they were discovered by them.