High School Classics Worth Reading: 'The Catcher in the Rye'

Pick up J. D. Salinger’s teenage classic as an adult. No, really, it’s worth it.

| March 2013

  • Practical Classics
    “Practical Classics” includes 50 essays on high school literature and what books are classics worth reading again as an adult.
    Cover Courtesy Prometheus Books

  • Practical Classics

Rediscover the great books of your youth and what they have to say about your life now. Remember reading The Catcher in the Rye and Pride and Prejudice at school? Would you read these high school classics again now that no one is grading you, just for your own enjoyment? Practical Classics (Prometheus Books, 2013) helps you do just that. Author Kevin Smokler guides you through fifty books commonly assigned in high school English classes and shows you why you'd probably enjoy rereading the same books as an adult. Smokler's essays on the classics—witty, down-to-earth, appreciative, and insightful—are divided into ten sections, each covering an archetypical stage of life— from youth and first love to family, loss, and the future. The following excerpt is an argument for re-reading The Catcher in the Rye as an adult. No, really. Smokler explains that Catcher is one of the classics worth reading, worthwhile to understand Holden Caulfield’s perspective to understand teenagers—or just one New York kid grieving over his brother.  

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You’re rolling your eyes right now, aren’t you?

The Catcher in the Rye? Are you nuts? Who would read that book again? Who would want to feel like their angry ninth-grade self again? Do I need to remember when I actually wore a trench coat and red hunting hat for about eight days? Maybe glance at a few pages before loaning it to my high-school-aged niece. But read it myself as an adult? Again? Only the sad and crazy do that. The Catcher in the Rye belongs to your alienated youth. If you need it later on, it’s time to grow up and stop fantasizing about killing celebrities. 

Now unscowl your faces, good people. Objections noted. In fact, I had more trouble deciding if Catcher in the Rye belonged in Practical Classics than any other book. Catcher, it seems, belongs to a small group of high school classics with a built-in self-destruct button. No one reads Atlas Shrugged past age twenty-five unless they voted for the Objectivist candidate in the last election. No one pores over Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet once they can legally pour a glass of whiskey. And everybody reads The Catcher in the Rye in high school, but no one sees reason to afterward. I decided early on that both boxes had to be checked for the book to qualify as not just a classic but as a “Practical Classic.”

Hell, even a nostalgic fool like me hasn’t read the novel since high school. I’ve grown up, but since 1951, Holden Caulfield has not.

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