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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Holden in Heaven, by Eve Silberman

In mid-February, forty people were waiting their turn to check out a 60-year-old novel from the Ann Arbor District Library. Of course it's not just any novel--it's the high school classic Catcher in the Rye.

The recent death of reclusive author J.D. Salinger has caused a resurgence of interest in the man and his best-known book. "It's been flying off the shelf," says a Borders clerk, estimating that that since the author's death on January 28, the Liberty Street store has been selling between 30 and 40 copies a week, compared to 1 to 5 copies previously. Adds the clerk, " I read it when I was a senior. Loved it!"

An author's popularity often surges after death. Following the suicide of novelist David Foster Wallace, "People were asking about [his book Infinite Jest] for weeks, " says a staffer at Dawn Treader. But Salinger's death hit especially hard because so many young readers empathized with its angst-ridden teen hero, Holden Caulfield. who wonders around late 1940s Manhattan fulminating at "phonies."

"Compared to a lot of classics we teach, that's one book [teenagers] connect to," says Huron High English teacher Bob Fox. Judith DeWoskin of Community High says her students still find Holden as endearing as ever: "In a class of thirty students, I'll get twenty-six who respond to his voice and four who say he's a whiner and should shut up." Increasingly sophisticated about mental health, today's young readers debte whether Holden was bi-polar (DeWoskin has brought in shrinks to contribute to that discussion).

In this post-Salinger era, anyone treasuring a first edition of Catcher could unload it for up to $15,000, says Jay Platt of West Side Book Shop. Wistfully, he recalls that he sold one about twenty years ago--when the price was just $75.

posted by John Hilton at 2:57 p.m. | 0 comments


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