Judging a book by its cover

All Growns Up

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Xinyu Li/Senior Staff

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The first copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” I ever owned was my mom’s worn copy from her high school years. The title splayed across the frayed, shockingly white cover in black Times New Roman font, beckoning me to open the book to find the color inside. Thin between my fingers, the pages feathered out the story of Holden Caulfield that I was required to read for my sophomore year English class.

My second and third copy came to me on the same day. When the cover of my mom’s copy fell into the swimming pool of my aunt’s Texas beach house halfway through my reading, I decided that it was too delicate to continue to flip through in the summer sun.

When we were back in Fullerton, I picked up a hard copy with a dark orange, reddish cover. The cashier turned the fresh, stiff novel over in her hands, tracing her finger over the abstract line-drawing of a carousel horse stretched across the cover. I observed her inspection of the book –– scratching the undisturbed pages with her rings. As she handed it back, she said, “You’ve found a beautiful copy. Almost as beautiful as the story inside.”

When I got back home, I found a large paperback copy of “The Catcher in the Rye,” the same cover as the one I just bought but in a lighter orange color, with a piece of loose paper sticking out of its top. It was a note from my brother: “Someone said you needed this — Max.”

Fanning through the pages, I uncovered the shadows of dog-ears and creases left over from the year before. Max’s handwriting bled across the margins in an inky black pen. Max had written “Ha.” next to almost every paragraph. “Suitcase complex” was penned parallel to some long diatribe. On page 214, he’d drawn twelve sad faces, all different sizes.

A collection began to blossom. I started receiving copies of “The Catcher in the Rye” as gifts. Lily gave me hers after our English class moved onto a new topic. Inside the front cover she’d written “Lily Williams, Mr. Read, Block 5” underneath the inscription of its previous owner.

On my 17th birthday, Olivia handed me a navy paper bag with the same edition of the book that I had gotten from Lily. Except, in this copy, Olivia inscribed in her flowery handwriting a note that read, “Hopefully we can continue exchanging books in the future.”

After visiting Paris, Ava brought back a French edition for my collection. Inside, she wrote that she hoped I could always find solace in my books, followed by her phone number. The cover still featured the same carousel horse as the hardcover I bought in Fullerton, but the drawing was wider and the cover itself was glossy. The title, “L’attrape-cœurs,” was in white, “J. D. Salinger” was in Arial font, and the French words inside were tinier than any of my other copies.

When I went to Barcelona with Jovi, I found a copy in Spanish. We found it in a bookstore on a narrow cobblestone road across from the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. After struggling to explain what I was looking for, the owner emerged with “El Guardian Entre el Centeno.” With an unrecognizable cover and an unfamiliar title, I had to scan the first page until I found “David Copperfield” to confirm it was, in fact, a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.”

In Florence, my mom and I found an Italian version. “Il Giovane Holden” was easy to find — the stark white cover with Arial black font sat in the middle of the “Romanzo Moderno” bookshelf. In broken Italian, I asked the cashier how much it was. He answered with 10 fingers. I handed him 10 euros and stepped out onto Ponte Vecchio with the book under my arm.

There was never a question of whether the chicken came before the egg. I definitely fell in love with the covers, the copies themselves, before I loved the story they held. Every version is different. Different pages are dog-eared, different inscriptions dress the covers, different languages tell Holden’s journey. Each copy may tell the same story, but the collection itself tells a story too.

Fullerton. Houston. London. Barcelona. Paris. Florence. Michigan. New York. North Carolina. My mom. Max. Ava. Olivia. Lily. Me. Each copy is a pinpoint on a map, showing the places I’ve been and the people I have met and gotten to know along the way.

When I moved to Berkeley to start my college journey, one of the first things I did was look for a copy. I found it at Pegasus Books. The copy was the same white cover with Times New Roman font as my first, the one from my mom, but the cover wasn’t falling off and the pages weren’t so worn. It was fresh and stiff, the pages soft from passing time but still almost untouched –– but not for long.  

After I wrote my name, the city and the date on the cover, I pushed my books apart and made this copy a home among my 14 others.

Maisy Menzies writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on milestone moments experienced through art. Contact her at [email protected].