Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

3.2.10

Death of a novelist.

It wasn’t J.D. Salinger’s fault they made The Catcher in the Rye required reading for forty years. He only wrote it. No wonder he refused interviews. They conscripted his novel into a sub-culture.

I had to read it one year in the early 1970s. I didn't like it; but I didn't particularly like anything that year. Alongside Salinger's novel, the jokesters on the curriculum committee at the Education Department had prescribed Albert Camus' nihilistic The Outsider, alarmist jargoneer Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and a volume of poetry to slash your wrists by, entitled Voices. If you could call it poetry. It was like reading sharp knives. They threw in Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night for a little light relief; and then they whacked us like a punchdrunk boxer with The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a book so tedious I became one just to escape reading it.

There are always buzzwords and the buzzword that year was alienation. Storylines had characters going off in search of themselves and the plot twist was usually that they didn't succeed. You couldn't see that coming. Fortunately, excelling in the subject was easy. All you had to do was include 'alienation' in one of its noun, adjective or verb forms in every paragraph of your essay, like a bureaucrat putting 'diversity’ and 'outcomes' in every second sentence, and you got a distinction.

J. D. Salinger died a week or so ago. I haven’t read his book since that final year of school. Perhaps I should reread it. I’ll bracket it with a Hemingway and a Chandler to give it a fair chance. I wonder what the theme in literature is these days?

8 comments:

A Melbourne Girl said...

Oh KH, I remember some of those awful books....although I did enjoy Catcher and re-read it a few years later. I still have O'Neill's Long days Journey into Boredom and the Pointleseness of the Long Distance Runner. Maybe I should've taken up running but I was too interested in the school musical and the volleyball team.
Lesley

jo said...

He was a family friend, taught my mom to play tennis when she grew up in Cornish/Windsor and was quite well liked by all the local kids. I felt a familial obligation to read it and I couldn't really understand what all the fuss was about.
In fact there weren't too many books I was forced to read that I enjoyed.

Janis Gore said...

Seems odd that Australians were reading Salinger, too.

You got yourselves a big, isolated continent down there with all that "outback" and youngsters were reading Salinger for his expression of alienation?

kitchen hand said...

I like your alternative titles, Lesley!

Jo, all the wrong books were forced on us.

Very odd, indeed, Janis. I had to embark on my own reading journey along with the 'prescribed' works. Generations of children missed the moody flat threatening landscapes of Mavis Thorpe Clark, the bush and outback towns of Ivan Southall, the desert children of Colin Thiele, Alan Marshall's coming-of-age in the Depression novels and much other Australian literature. All lost.

Dr. Alice said...

You know my opinion of Salinger. [g]

I remember reading "Lord of the Flies" in high school and that one didn't thrill me too much, either.

kitchen hand said...

I couldn't get through Lord of the Flies, Dr. A., it bored me to death.

White Dove said...

Don't be too harsh on Salinger KH....he and his ilk may have been the making of you !

kitchen hand said...

Yes, White Dove, you're right; but not so much harsh on Salinger himself as the educationists who prescribed a narrow band of angst-laden literature.