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?