Remember when you were graduating from high school? Like today’s graduates, the world was at your feet. You knew everything and understood nothing. One way to expand your thinking was to read, and choosing books your friends were reading or you had heard about often topped your list.
More than 40 years ago, I chose to read three books: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (Little, Brown and Company, Inc. 1945), John Knowles’ A Separate Peace (The Macmillan Company, 1959), and Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1939).
At the time, these books deeply colored my thinking, my political beliefs, and my worldview. Over the past several weeks, I decided to devote time to rereading them, curious to know if they still held the answers I was looking for as a 17-year-old preparing for college in the fall.
I felt the deep angst of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, and I had a close friend as charismatic as Knowles’ Phineas. Everything my friend touched seemed to turn to gold, and it was not until years later that I realized she lost her mom to cancer while we were teenagers, had a sister to care for with special needs, and a brother who was a drug addict.
Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun was the most powerful of the three. I read it at the height of the Vietnam War, and it changed how I saw what we asked our soldiers to sacrifice. As we face more unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan and a broken system that cares for veterans of other unpopular wars, the time seemed right to read it again.
Do these books still matter? Are they relevant? Now, 42 years later, and much longer if you consider when they were written, are they worth the time and effort? If you read them years ago, it might be a good time to read them again. If you have not read them, now’s your chance. First, we will tackle Holden - and my first question is, “Did he ever grow up?”
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