The Catcher in the Rye: The Greatest Book of Its Time
The late J. D. Salinger’s masterpiece has long been the spark of debate, but in the high school classroom it still might be the best book of its kind.
On 27 January 2010 J. D. Salinger died at the age of 91 and the world promptly began mourning him. Several eulogies were written, printed and posted in various media sources [including a eulogy of Salinger’s Seymour Glass written for PopMatters by Chadwick Jenkins (5 February 2010)]. Once again, as happens every five years or so, it became popular to wax poetic about the literary achievement that was a nice little book called The Catcher in the Rye. Accordingly, as happens every five years or so, it also became popular to talk about how overrated The Catcher in the Rye is (see Aaron Sager’s “Why I Dislike ‘Rye’: Not be-Holden to Salinger’s ‘Catcher’”, for example, PopMatters 11 February 2010)
The Catcher in the Rye holds a very singular place in the world of literature. It’s a classic to be sure, but it’s often thought of as the classic—more than a coming of age novel; more than a great coming of age novel. The Catcher in the Rye is the Citizen Kane of coming of age novels, which means it pulls off a much more difficult trick than actually being the best coming of age novel ever written; it’s widely accepted as the greatest coming of age novel ever written.
Much like Citizen Kane it is more than a work of art. The Catcher in the Rye is the answer to a poll question. “What is the greatest coming of age tale ever written?” for example, or “What is the best young adult novel ever penned?” and of course the inevitable backlash of “What is the most overrated American literary classic in history?”