Yesterday at 5:30 pm, my 15-year-old asked me for my copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He said he needed to bring it in for a school assignment. I looked on my bookshelf, which is only somewhat organized, and couldn’t locate it among the S authors on the fiction shelves. Then I looked on the other shelves. Then in the other half dozen places in the house that books reside. Then back on the fiction shelves in my office. It wasn’t anywhere.
This troubled me because not only is it my favorite book, but I’ve bought at least three copies of it over the years. Also, my husband had a copy. I could see its cover in my mind’s eye.
Last year, my book group read A Separate Peace, and again I knew that both my husband and I brought a copy of that book into our marriage. Yet I couldn’t find it at the time and ended up buying another one. As soon as I finished it, I found a place for it on the fiction shelf, and guess which other two copies of it were sitting there, right where they were supposed to be?
Had I simply overlooked them? Both of them? I like buying books, but I hate buying books that I already own. And I feel like we do that here, over and over again.
At 6 o’clock, my son asked more urgently for the book, leading me to believe that he not only had to bring it to school the next day, he also had to read some of it. The local bookstores close at 6, and I was holding fast in my principled decision not to buy this book a fourth time. So I started making calls.
I know Nancy has the book because she’s told me that her husband read it aloud to her son a year or so ago. She called me back at 6:30. She can’t find it. The family across the street – son at Stanford – can’t find it. The couple around the corner – ”yes we definitely have a copy of it somewhere” – can’t find it.
I posted my plight on Facebook and got similar results. “I was going to offer you my copy – my son just read it – but I can’t find it.”
I started calling up and down the street, and then to my most literate friends. No, no, no, no, yes. Okay, a friend has a copy but it’s from her high school days. “I’m taping up the cover now, but it’s like an antique,” she said. “I’m a bit afraid the pages will turn to dust when you open it. I definitely want it back.”
This is too much pressure and responsibility for me, especially given the fact that once my son is finished drinking a Poland Spring water, the bottle is barely recognizable as such.
Finally, another call – probably my 20h – yields a relatively intact copy.
Mr. Salinger, we all know you to be an elusive guy, if you know what I mean. But whatever is happening to your books is just crazy, goddamn it.