Within two weeks of its 1951 release, J.D. Salinger’s novel rocketed to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Ever since, the book — which explores three days in the life of a troubled 16-year-old boy — has been a “favorite of censors since its publication,” according to the American Library Association. In 1960, school administrators at a high school in Tulsa, Okla., fired an English teacher for assigning the book to an 11th-grade class. While the teacher later won his appeal, the book remained off the required reading list. Another community in Columbus, Ohio, deemed the book “antiwhite” and formed a delegation to have it banned from local schools. One library banned it for violating codes on “excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence and anything dealing with the occult.” When asked about the bans, Salinger once said, “Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all my best friends are children. It’s almost unbearable for me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach.”
The book introduced slang expressions like the term screw up (as in, “Boy, it really screws up my sex life something awful”). Literary critics have both hailed and assailed the novel, which broke the mold with its focus on character development rather than plot. Holden Caulfield, the novel’s protagonist, has since become a symbol of adolescent angst. In 1980, 25-year-old Mark David Chapman shot Beatles legend John Lennon in front of his Manhattan home and later gave the book to police as an explanation for why he did it.
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