So, J D Salinger has died. How apt that in this week when we celebrate the birth of Rabbie Burns, the death is announced of the author who used one of the Bard’s poems to create a first person narrative that defined at least one generation: ‘Catcher in the Rye’. According to the wiki , Holden Caulfield shares a fantasy he has been thinking about (based on a mishearing of Robert Burns’ Comin’ Through the Rye): he pictures himself as the sole guardian of numerous children running and playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink; to be a “catcher in the rye”. Sounds a bit like the daily life of a support for learning teacher!

Many people regard ‘Catcher in the Rye’ as a crucial text in their adolescence. They identify with the themes of rebellion, alienation, identity and belonging. Some of Holden Caulfield’s characteristics certainly rang true for me (and my own children) during those years; not least his ability to suffer from more than his fair share of youthful angst and his need to pierce the ‘phoniness’ of adult society.

However, for me a far more influential book (what is the feminine version of seminal? Ovarian?) was ‘Little Women’. I am not the only woman of my generation who responded to the feminist issues raised by the L M Alcott a century after she wrote it. Perhaps this opinion was somewhat excessive – after all I was allowed to go to university. But I was teenager with passionate opinions and Jo March seemed to speak for me. I certainly found the depiction of Jo reflected my own striving for independence and her quest for truth and beauty were very inspiring.

Those books we read as teenagers are often the ones that are most influential, stay with us longer and become our most constant companions in times of trouble. Frances Spufford’s memoir of many of the books that he read obsessively as a child, reflect the joys and nostalgia of that intense time. He concludes – and who could disagree? – that reading helps a child create a sense of herself.  (‘The Child that Books Built’).

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