Friday, January 29, 2010

Catcher In the Rye

Reading about J.D Salinger's death, brought back memories of the time when I got my first opportunity to read Catcher in the Rye and just as quickly lost it. I was twelve then and was visiting with Uncle D and his family. In my sleepy little town, his bookshelf was the best stocked library I could have access to. His tastes were eclectic and he always made great recommendations. On this particular evening he asked me "Didn't you just have your twelfth birthday ?" and I said it had been a week ago.

"Great. No time like now for you to read Catcher in the Rye" he said handing me a well-worn paperback copy of the book. Even before I could flip through it, his sister scooped it out of my hands reprimanding Uncle D as she did so. "Do you have no better sense, D than to give a child this young Catcher in the Rye to read ?" she asked him.

Now Uncle D's sister visited them sometimes and was a formidable woman in every way. She had several master's degrees and taught English literature at a fancy Delhi college. Anyone who knew her for any length of time knew better than to mess with her. Uncle D protested feebly that he had been about my age when he first read the Catcher and she retorted "That would explain a lot !" and walked away in a huff along with the book leaving him more than a little embarrassed.

I may not even have read the book had it not been snatched away from me under such dramatic circumstances. But now, I simply had to check it out if only to see why it was so inappropriate for a twelve year old. I was able to get hold of the book a couple of years later and loved it. Thanks to that incident, I became very curious about books that had once been banned. To that end, I made sure I read Lolita, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Fanny Hill, Flowers In the Attic and much more well before I might have been considered old enough to read any of these books.

Uncle D and his sister taught me a valuable parenting lesson early on. It is usually safer to hand kids books that might be objectionable than to take them away because kids will find a way to read what they have been forbidden to. Having an adult in their lives to discuss their understanding and reaction to the book is very important and to deny them that opportunity is to distort their emotional growth.

It never ceased to surprise me that a highly qualified woman who was an educator herself, would choose to take the approach she did with the Salinger book. Uncle D was an engineer who had loved literature and had the good sense to introduce kids to it as early as possible. I am grateful to him for that and his book policing sister for sparking my curiosity about non-conformist literature.

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