The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger,

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Why read it?

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

Salinger broke a lot of unspoken rules of fiction-writing–and thus life–with Catcher. It was emotionally cauterizing for me as a teenager while incessantly trying, and failing, at learning rules adults apparently didn’t want us to know.

I’m certain many of my contemporaries identified with Holden Caulfield’s stream-of-consciousness introspection as deeply as I did. And when I think back about it, I find myself once again in the grip of how it was: ferreting out how life works but getting no guidance from parents, teachers, or bosses, only the terror of making mistake after mistake until the world didn’t make…

I was 12 or 13 when I first read The Catcher in the Rye and I was gobsmacked.

It’s a work of fiction but it was obviously autobiographical because it was so intimately detailed and genuinely rendered. It was like eavesdropping on someone’s psychiatric sessions, the narrative of a patient who holds nothing back from his doctor.

In Holden’s voice I heard so much of myself including a contempt for phoniness as well as a reluctance to enter adulthood. Holden doesn’t hold back on embarrassing details: an encounter with a prostitute and her pimp that goes wrong, and just before…

From Clark's list on full of intimate self-revelations.

Holden Caulfield’s sardonic, world-weary teenage voice grabbed me when I first read this book in preparation for teaching it to a class of boys.

He makes out he doesn’t really want to tell his story. Take it or leave it. He doesn’t care. Reverse psychology! I wanted to read on and find out what had gone wrong in his world to cause his cynicism.

My teenage students, during our lessons, raged at Holden, hated him, laughed at him, envied him, loved him, and felt for him as we tracked his progress in Manhattan where he pretends to be adult and…

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. 

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