The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
In this edition of What We’re Reading, join Dr. Todd H. Kuethe, Associate Professor and Schrader Endowed Chair in Farmland Economics in Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, as he takes us on a blast from the past to our high school days with the latest book he’s been reading: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
To be honest, my reading of The Catcher in the Rye started as a joke with two of my closest friends, Brent, who teaches philosophy, and Chris, who teaches literature. Through the Coronavirus pandemic, Brent, Chris and I have maintained a rambling conversation through group texts, Facebook posts and Marco Polo videos. We frequently talk about cooking and our successes and failures with remote teaching. This spring was my first semester teaching at Purdue and, by surprise, it was also my first semester teaching remotely. Although Brent and Chris are experienced and accomplished teachers, they shared similar challenges. Chris tried, with mixed success, to transition his course on The Catcher in the Rye to remote learning. Being the great friends that we are, Brent and I decided to give Chris some additional experience by leading us through an online discussion as well.
Like most people, I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. I was roughly the age of the novel’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Now, I’m only a handful of years older than the novel’s author J.D. Salinger. My second reading of the book was much different, as my perspective on Caulfield has shifted with age and experience. I found myself wanting to help him as a parent or teacher, rather than commiserate as a peer. The success of this book famously drove Salinger to become a recluse, moving to a small town in New Hampshire where his productivity slowed. Salinger’s experience seems fitting for three teachers waiting out the Coronavirus with our worries frequently rambling like the words of Holden Caulfield.
Strategy is about making choices, often while facing a great deal of uncertainty. As decision makers, we tend to limit our choices when facing uncertainty as fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. However, limiting choices also limits chances of being successful. When teaching decision making, I try to help industry professionals realize that the best alternative they can identify is one that they have identified. Can you see the juxtaposition of our desire to limit our choices under uncertainty, but at the same time, realizing we have to think of good solutions, which often requires identifying more instead of less?
I often say that in Purdue University’s Agricultural Economics department comprised of over 30 faculty members, I’m the only one who isn’t an economist; I’m a behaviorist. I came to ag econ late in life after a career in management, and I haven’t worked a day since. I love the field of behavior and understanding how human brains make decisions. Jonah Berger, author of The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, is a faculty member at Wharton, and he is really, probably the me I would like to be. A true behaviorist with a PhD from Stanford, he’s written several terrific books on behavior, mostly in a business context. You may be familiar with his other best-selling book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.
In this edition of What We’re Reading, Dr. Pete Hammett shares his recent read by Terry Pearce, “Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future.”