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The Catcher in the Rye Voted Best NYC Book by Gothamist Readers

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Melissa Toldy
Melissa Toldy
the catcher in the rye bookMelissa Toldy

Seventy years after its publication, J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel still resonates with New Yorkers. The Catcher in the Rye, narrated by a teenage misanthrope named Holden Caulfield, was voted the best New York book, among 13 titles chosen by city librarians.

Patti Smith’s Just Kids (2010) came in at second with 41.3% of the votes. Gothamist conducted the survey as part of their ongoing simulations with ranked-choice voting, in anticipation of the new type of primary elections scheduled for June 22.

In the first round of votes, 828 of 3423 votes were cast for Salinger’s novel. That’s 26.2% of the total, putting The Catcher in the Rye at the lead from the start. The Gothamist team surmised that the novel’s popularity with the general public might have translated to its popularity in the poll, by comparing the numbers with Goodreads reviews. Also, given the age of the novel, dating back to the 1950s, might indicate a wider readership than newer titles.

Both books - Just Kids and The Catcher in the Rye - capture a bygone era of New York City. One is fiction; one is memoir. Both tell coming-of-age stories. In a city filled with endless wonder and endless chances for heartbreak and confusion. Patti Smith’s memoir tells the real-life story of Smith moving to NYC in the late 1960s, where she formed an intimate relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Unlike the fictional Caulfield, Smith’s narration glorifies the human connection.

Does this mean that more New Yorkers identify with the antisocial character from Salinger’s novel? Or does a fictional narrative have wider appeal than a retelling of actual events?

I tend to agree with the Gothamist team: It’s likely that more people have read The Catcher in the Rye, thereby increasing its chances for a higher ranking. It’s the same story we’ve been hearing about the popularity of Andrew Yang as the mayoral candidate for New York City. Yang got his name out there during the 2020 presidential race, and now, he’s banking on name recognition throughout the city and the nation.

Have you read either of these top two books that capture the essence of New York City life? What about the other 13 titles on the list?

  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • Jazz by Toni Morrison
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
  • Open City by Teju Cole
  • Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee

Although Teju Cole’s Open City sits near the bottom of the rankings, I think this novel captures a vital aspect of New York City life: Walking. The protagonist, a young doctor named Julius, wanders around the city in a sort of aimless and pensive state. Similar to a coming-of-age tale, the story shows how NYC can expose its inhabitants to a wide range of stimulation and contemplation.

Patti Smith’s other memoir, M Train, is another great New York book. One that I loved even more than Just Kids. Much of the story takes place before and after the ramifications of Hurricane Sandy in 2021. Although the memoir deals with grief and loss, Smith also shares intimate details about her lifestyle in the West Village. Nearly every day, she visits the same coffee shop, insisting on a certain table where she can sit and write. It’s a beautiful story, told from the perspective of a longtime New Yorker.

What are your favorite New York books? Would you pick any from the list above? Or do you have another title in mind?