In the places in which I've taught (from college lecture halls and writing centers to a juvenile detention facility for young men), Holden's narrative has, like no other, cracked open the discussion coconut. From the classrooms of a tony suburban high school into an undergrad honors seminar in a small liberal arts college over to the cramped, dirty classroom of that juvie center, Holden bounded. He captivated, angered, and alternately dismayed and delighted.It's true. Most people either outright hate him or feel sympathetic to his particular plight. I myself have always had a soft spot for Holden and completely agree with Ms. M-mv.
For this alone, he will remain in my top ten.
He makes. students. think. [...]
Some might argue that just about any book can yield discussion, but I'd counter that this is really only true when you're talking with readers. But I haven't always worked with readers, and with non-readers (or less than ideal readers (more about this in a moment)), a deafening sound of silence often follows an enthusiastic teacher's inquiries about the latest reading assignment when, for myriad reasons, a book has failed to connect with the students (or vice versa).
Oh, sure, you can lead, cajole, and coach responses. And I did. But with Holden? I never needed to. He spoke to (shouted at!) both my readers and my non-readers with little to no interpretation from me. The students fairly exploded with questions, opinions, assertions, and reactions.
Call me crazy, but I love that sort of visceral response to literature.
On a related note, I once mentioned Janet Malcolm's fantastic essay in defence of Franny and Zooey, and it bears repeating. It's a brilliant piece of work.
While reading Ian Hamilton's engaging (pseudo)biography on Salinger, I was infuriated by the wholesale (intentional?) misunderstanding of the book on the part of the critics of the day. Forget about missing the boat. They missed the entire ocean. It's as if they read as far as "Franny" and stopped, then smugly (and irrationally) declared the book "anti-intellectual." If all this hadn't happened before I was born, I would've stormed off letters to the critics calling them "anti-intellectual" for being so lazy as to not read the latter half of the book.