DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE--OR THE ANTI-HYPE: Unlike most of America (apparently), I was never forced to read J.D. Salinger, so my feelings towards him are not compromised by having been told, repeatedly, what a genius he was. Then again, I wasn't subjected to many of the things kids are apparently forced to read--Dickens, Melville, Hawthorne, etc--so could come to them later when I was in a better position to appreciate them; the things I was forced to read--The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Crime and Punishment--all had the virtue of being great works of literature and the good fortune to be taught to me by teachers who could point of the greatness of those works.

No, Salinger for me was always a voluntary choice, if coerced in a somewhat different way (Franny and Zooey is the Troester family novel). I read him early--F&Z in 7th grade along with Nine Stories, The Catcher in the Rye after 8th grade. Catcher was interesting but slight (I was reading Shakespeare at the time, a comparison that will make anyone look bad). I never bought into the cult of Holden nor the cult of hating him: like most people of his age, he can be miserable and insufferable, however allied with a flash of the better person he might become when he's an adult. Franny is the one I always had trouble with, and for a long time: the conclusion of the story seemed too easy, or too vague, but certainly unearned, which for a long time was a key criterion for me. In the end, it is only a story, well-told, about people in whom I could recognize something of myself, which is all we can ever really ask of an author.

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