This isn't about J.D. Salinger's right to legally block the publication of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye by J.D. California. This is about love and the adolescent inability to separate real life from fiction; the tantalizing privileges of adulthood from the rewards of childhood fantasy. It is about reading The Catcher in the Rye for the very first of many times.
The spring of eighth grade was my literary equivalent of "Where were you on 9/11?" I attended Fieldston, a well-reputed prep school with liberal leanings. Mr. Hubner, my English teacher, assigned The Catcher in the Rye once my class had paid our dues reading and writing multiple essays on Salinger's short stories.
As far as the females in my class were concerned, Mr. Hubner could have asked us to read the dictionary and we would have done it for him with a lip-glossed smile. Mr. Hubner was our rock star, movie star and IT teacher wrapped into a blond, no-penny in the penny-loafer package. He looked like a preppy, pink-fleshed Robert Redford. Never mind that Robert Redford walked with a cowboy swagger and Mr. Hubner with a swish.
"If he's gay does that mean he won't want to marry?" We questioned each other locker-side in the halls. "Do you think he likes long or short hair?" Our conclusions were less important than the immediacy of guessing what his apartment might look like and whether the svelte dance teacher, Alice, might have already garnered his interest.
So we eagerly read of Holden Caulfield's exploits, carefully highlighted seemingly significant passages and listened raptly as Mr. Hubner pointed out the symbolism of Holden's angst. Within days of his instruction I was convinced, like the rest of my class, that I was Holden and he was me. Only gender and time (no one used the word "swell" anymore) separated us. Holden was as real to me as the promise of Mr. Hubner's attentions.
After we completed the final pages, Mr. Hubner explained how the reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, was sometimes viewed as an adult version of his main character. At that, I nearly swooned with wonder -- it was a holy trinity: Mr. Hubner, Salinger and Holden all holding out their arms with unique compassion. Unlike my parents, my other teachers, the rest of my world they understood my pain of being young, perhaps even different.
So I don't want to think, let alone read, about Holden Caulfield aging in a senior home any more than I want to consider where or who Mr. Hubner is right now. Whether J.D. California wrote his sequel, 60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye as a tribute or for personal gain, isn't my question. Rather, why would a writer want to mar the once perfect love of any true readers?
Follow Susan Weissman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/susanweissman