For me at age 11, The Catcher in the Rye was a gateway book, leading inevitably to the harder stuff: Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, Nine Stories. Didn’t fully understand them then; not sure if I do today. My father’s bookshelves may have been standard fare at the time, but to me they were remarkable, then and now. And as I moved beyond Salinger, I learned to read above my age and grade—and not just for the dirty parts (which I’m still expert at finding). Thinking about Catcher again, I realize that we never talked about his books—our books—and it’s too late now. Anyway, I still have that Signet paperback, cover price 50 cents, its crumbly ivoried pages falling out in clumps. It’s not my reading copy, of course. I go back to Catcher every other year or so, and both book and reader seem to have changed every time. –Joe Brown
By the time I read The Catcher in the Rye, I was 16, a few years into a drug problem that began with childhood glue-sniffing. I had few social skills, had alienated myself academically and, rather than “phonies,” I considered my peers to be plastic people because I couldn’t accept that happy, goal-achieving people could be real. I had pretty much failed my way through junior high. I slept during class and only occasionally read assignments.
But something about Catcher grabbed me—the alienation, the loneliness, the voice of Holden. What amazed me most when I woke from my desk nap is that students were discussing these themes openly. Suddenly the plastic people had a realness to them.
Moreover, this was the first time the idea of a creative outlet hit me and planted a seed. Salinger didn’t save me from drugs or a reckless lifestyle, but he opened a door for me when I needed one, and I eventually walked through. By my senior year I was cleaned up and ready to move forward. Unfortunately, the underlying damage was still there and a new kind of hell was on its way. For that I had Salinger’s “For Esme, with Love and Squalor,” a beacon, so to speak. Thanks, J.D., for everything. –Kristen Peterson