By now I’m sure you all know that J.D. Salinger died on Wednesday, at age 91. Since yesterday's announcement, publications and blogs have been buzzing with Salinger articles and tributes. (Read his obituary in the New York Times or this article in Slate about Holden Caufield-inspired movie characters.)

In honor of what might be America’s most famous "rite of passage” novel, I wanted to ask readers of The Book Case: When did you first read The Catcher in the Rye? What did the book mean to you?

I read it when I was 13—the same copy that my mom read as a boarding school student three decades before. I still have that copy, a 1964 Bantam paperback, on my bookshelf. As you can see from the photo, it’s been around. (I’m pretty sure I spent all of eighth grade carrying it in my backpack and calling my classmates “phonies” under my breath.)

Just for fun, here are two other Catcher covers. Also, see an iconic excerpt below the jump.


From Chapter 22 of The Catcher in the Rye:

“Daddy’s going to kill you. He’s going to kill you,” she said.

I wasn’t listening, though. I was thinking about something else—something crazy. “You know what I’d like to be?” I said. “You know what I’d like to be? I mean if I had my goddam choice?”

“What? Stop swearing.”

“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? I’d like—“

“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”

“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”

She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,’” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Old Phoebe didn’t say anything for a long time. Then, when she said something, all she said was, “Daddy’s going to kill you.”

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