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J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye , Franny and Zooey , and Nine Stories , is dead at the age of ninety-one . His son confirmed that he died of natural causes.

As I wrote last June , since its publication in 1951, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye has been the favored bildungsroman novel of the American teen. At least it was, that is, before the arrival of the current generation of discerning readers :

Teachers say young readers just don’t like Holden as much as they used to. What once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many of them as “weird,” “whiny” and “immature.” . . .

“Holden Caulfield is supposed to be this paradigmatic teenager we can all relate to, but we don’t really speak this way or talk about these things,” Ms. Levenson said, summarizing a typical response. At the public charter school where she used to teach, she said, “I had a lot of students comment, ‘I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City.’ “


When I first read Catcher ( circa 1986) I thought it was one of most profound novels I’d ever read (of course at the time I thought the same about Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead , so my literary judgment was suspect). But when my sixteen-year-old daughter recently read the book her verdict was quite different: Holden Caulfield is a pathetic bore.

Her assessment is similar to the fifteen-year-old boy from Long Island who, according to the Times , told an expert on children’s literature: “Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’”

There is no doubt that Salinger had a profound influence on many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers. But will that be enough to sustain his literary legacy? How do you think future generations will regard his body of work? Will there be a resurgence of interest or was he a minor author who merely connected with the zeitgeist of the late twentieth century youth?

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