If you were a teenager in the 1980s and went to a high school that required you to wear a uniform (I did), you should find the following passage familiar:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all, — I’m not saying that — but they’re also touchy as hell. Besides, I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come down here and take it easy.
That’s Holden Caulfield narrating the opening lines to J.D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye. The book rode a wave of popularity at the time, even among teens who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a book in their spare time (probably the same non-readers who would years later be responsible for Generation X’s amazing sales). It might have been the fact that it’s one of the better books to cover coming-of-age angst. Perhaps it was the frisson that came with reading a book that many schools and libraries had banned. It certainly got a boost in popularity from Mark David Chapman — he’s the guy who shot John Lennon — who was obsessed with the book.
The distinctive yellow-text-on-red-background version shown at the top of this article was what the cover of the paperback edition looked like then. If you pick up the paperback edition these days, you’re more likely to get one with the rather unremarkable cover shown below:
Penguin publishes editions with slightly better covers. Here’s one that looks like a lot of Addison-Wesley computer science textbooks from the 1990s:
Here’s another one. For some reason, the Gill Sans (a.k.a. “that British typeface”) paired with the title’s faux-hand-printed typeface reminds me a lot of The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole book series (which should also be considered part of a good “adolescent angst” book collection):
Here’s the dust cover for an earlier edition. It features a painting of the “carousel scene” near the end of the story:
The “carousel scene” is the climax of the story, so it’s found its way onto more than one cover. Here’s a cover featuring a more abstract rendition of the scene:
I found these covers via Google. The Catcher in the Rye is considered to be a 20th century classic, and it’s amusing to think of a classic as having been published with “pulp” covers:
The book has been translated into a number of languages, including Russian:
Here’s the cover for the York Notes set of study notes for The Catcher in the Rye. Although the cover depicts Manhattan, where most of the story takes place, it depicts a Manhattan that exists 50 years after the story:
And finally, here’s a cover that a design student created for a book cover exercise. The “Holden moping in Central Park” photos made me laugh: