The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger,

Book cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Book description

After leaving prep school Holden Caulfield spends three days on his own in New York City.

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Why read it?

12 authors picked The Catcher in the Rye as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This classic American novel was the first real book I read at school. I was 16 and felt a little connected to Holden Caulfield’s sense of disillusionment and self-alienation. I hadn’t been expelled like Holden, nor was I burdened with the grief of loss or the silence he had to endure after the death of his brother, but I was definitely experiencing some sense of apprehension and insecurity. I really wanted a red hunting hat…still do. Holden was the quintessential liar; he lied and obfuscated to avoid the inevitability of suffering, personal responsibility, and the wild ride of adolescence. My…

From Tracey's list on the truth and lies of ordinary lives.

Why may you ask is this book listed in my “fun” books about mental illness? There are those who might say, “When they forced me to read this novel in high school, the only fun things were the naughty words!” I beg to differ. Salinger was a master of bitterly dark humor. Holden Caulfield poking fun at “phonies” and adults as he struggles to maintain his sanity is timeless. Come on, what’s not fun about Ackley’s pimples or halitosis? A rawer version of Peter Pan, this classic story should still be on every young person’s reading list. 

Another coming-of-age classic written before YA was a thing. Salinger is a master of dialogue and description, especially when it comes to his young protagonist, Holden Caulfield, who, although outwardly cynical and jaded, is simply vulnerable as he tries to find a place for himself in a world that can often seem insincere (phony) and downright threatening. In a way, Holden Caulfield represents all of us, even if more than fifty years have passed since some of us were teenagers.

To be honest, I don’t love Holden Caulfield as much as a lot of people do, and if this book were set somewhere else I might not like it at all. But I love the way Holden tries to act out his fantasy of a sophisticated Manhattanite during his time alone in New York City, almost like he’s living out some post-war version of the Sex and the City tour. As he fails to fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything other than an innocent, sheltered prep school kid, he reveals how lonely the city can feel when you’re trying…

From Jennie's list on young readers set in old-school NYC.

This book changed my reading life forever. Catcher in the Rye was the first book I’d ever read narrated by a teenager. You see, back in the day, there was no such thing as Young Adult or Middle Grade (yes, I’m that old), so I read a lot of Stephen King, The Bible, and my mom’s leftover Harlequins. And then here comes the snarky Holden Caulfield, a kid who keeps flunking out of school while obsessing over the phoniness of everything the world has to offer. His observations are hilarious. And, anyway, who doesn’t love a book that was…

This novel made a lifelong impression on me when I read it as a teenager growing up in New York City. The descriptions of the underbelly of the city along with Holden Caulfield’s deep alienation spoke to me because here was a person from an upper-class background whose estrangement and distress resembled my own. Up until that point I had thought that only economically disadvantaged people had problems. This was my first experience with how reading could expand my worldview.

From Joyce's list on coming of age with a cutting edge.

In this quintessential coming of age story, Holden realizes that the rules governing society may be more aspirational than he was led to believe, and that adults can be unreliable and phony. I read this book when I was around his age, I also found these truths hard. We're still young and uncertain if we can trust our ability to decipher it all. It’s a tough time. 

The times in which we live make J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye more relevant and able to speak to us than ever. Of course, Holden Caulfield is everyone’s favorite young curmudgeon, but if you haven’t read this one since high school, or at all as an adult, it’s time to give it a second look. This book has often been reduced to its sound bites: everyone Holden encounters is a “phony.” But this novel takes a deep dive into loss, seclusion, depression, and innocence.  Holden is funny and smart and lost inside his life, feeling cut off from…

From Brad's list on for a melancholy day.

When my oldest son was fifteen he stopped reading, because he couldn’t find anything suitable for his age group. I gave him Catcher in the Rye, about a dissaffected American teenage boy heading for a nervous breakdown, and he loved it. But then I couldn’t find anything else, so I ended up writing my book for him, based on a story he told me about someone at his school. After it was published, my son’s friends used to pass one battered copy around between them! (I’d rather they’d bought one each, but oh well…)

A boy gets kicked out of prep school and wanders about the city, trying to come to terms with the absurdity of society, his unhappy life, and his PTSD. I nearly didn’t include this book because it has been written about ad nauseam, but I can’t discount the innovation of voice and mental health perspective of this novel set in the late 50s, early 60s. This honest portrayal of a young man in the midst of a mental health crisis made The Catcher in the Rye a deeply influential novel.

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