Welcome to the Character’s Bookshelf. This is where I speculate, entirely outside of the space-time continuum and the barriers of language, what books would be a fictional character’s favorites.
Holden Caulfield: “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot. ”
Today we’ll have a look at Holden Caulfield’s bookshelf. If you don’t know Holden, get out of here. No, don’t, but take my advice: drop whatever you were doing and start reading The Catcher In The Rye right now.
Good. Now that you know about Holden, you probably want to give him a million hugs and meet a thousand more characters like him and, I don’t know, wear his red hunting cap and talk about literature with him and marry him in a romantic but unstable fit of hysteria. If you feel as strongly about Holden as I do, here are a few more books to try.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
If anyone is the modern Holden Caulfield, it’s Charlie, the protagonist in Stephen Chbosky’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece. Both boys have some deep issues rooted in loneliness and trauma. Both boys are obsesses with fitting in and making friends, but ruin their own chances of social acceptance with this obsession. Both boys love reading.
Holden: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”
You can find a list of the books Charlie reads in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower on Goodreads here. Of course, The Catcher In The Rye is on Charlie’s list, and so are two other books that I’ve put on Holden’s shelf. Coincidence? I think not.
Charlie, quoting his English lit teacher: “He said it was the kind of book you made your own.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Holden would have thought both Gatsby and Nick were big phonies, and he would have thoroughly enjoyed telling you so. The thing you have to ask yourself, though, is this: doesn’t his constant condescension towards others make Holden a bit of a phony himself? Is he suffering from a genuine existential crisis? When I, personally, condescend to others or insult them, it is when I am feeling insecure and need to make myself feel superior. I’d argue that Holden does it for that reason, too. Still, no doubt he’d love the tragic whirlwind romance of Gatsby and Daisy.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
This is a popular book amongst fictional characters, it seems. I previously put it on Lord Sebastian Flythe’s bookshelf. The thing about A Separate Peace is that its setting is one I absolutely love. It takes place in a fancy East Coast prep school for boys. In A Separate Peace, the main characters attend Devon Prep school. Holden, of course, attends Pencey Prep. The similarities between the schools as well as their attendants are striking. I might dedicate a future blogpost to fictional educational institutes. *Cough* Hogwarts *cough.*
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Holden Caulfield: “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.”
The Virgin Suicides was a strange read for me. I enjoyed it tremendously, but I also found it unsettling to the point of being disengaging at times. The perspective is what makes me think Holden would like this book. The Virgin Suicides is written in the first person plural, which is to say that a group of boys, a collective “we” are the ones whose observations we’re reading. This makes for an almost voyeuristic tale, where the actions of the girls being observed are idealized and often sexualized. Holden, when looking at girls, tends to have a similar perspective.
Holden: “That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.”
Of course, the book is also about the unhappiness, the entrapment of the Lisbon girls, and their ensuing suicides. I think Holden would relate to the theme of imprisonment and boredom as well.
Holden, as he said himself, reads a lot. So I have no doubt that in his own fictional universe, he now owns a big house somewhere in Connecticut with a huge, dusty, overstuffed library. The books on this list are only the tip of the iceberg; Holden reads anything he can get his hands on. That’s part of the reason I love him so much.