The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, May 29, 2005  

Tampering With Perfection

File this under “Accountable, Someone Must Be Held.”

Remember the maroon and yellow cover of the paperback edition of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye? Of course you do, if you’re of at least a certain age.

It is no more.

And, to my surprise, it hasn’t been for some time now.

I learned that, also to my surprise and amid a remarkable personal coincidence, while reading today’s Philadelphia Inquirer wherein I encountered an excerpt of an article first published at Design Observer, “The Book (Cover) That Changed My Life,” by Michael Beirut:

[F]or me, the maroon cover of Catcher has a special place. Blank, enigmatic, vaguely dangerous, it was the perfect tabula rasa upon which I could project all my adolescent loneliness, insecurity, anger and sentimentality. It was as if possessing it provided a password into an exclusive club, even if that club existed only in your own mind. I wonder if a different cover, a more “designed” cover, could have been able to contain quite so much emotion and meaning.

Well, Catcher in the Rye has a different cover now. More than ten years ago, its publisher did what any intelligent marketer would do. They created a Unified Look and Feel for the Salinger Brand. Now all four of the paperbacks have identical white covers, identical black typography, and -- here my heart sinks -- a little sash of rainbow-colored stripes up in the corner. No horrible pictures of Holden and his hat, thank God, but those happy little lines just seem to be . . . what? I guess they’re trying a little too hard for my taste. As Holden Caulfield might say, the new covers just look phony. The old one was just so goddam nice, if you know what I mean.

We know. Believe me, we know.

Here’s a tip for any present-day high-school students now reading The Catcher in the Rye who want to shock their parents: Flash that white-covered tome in front of your parents. I promise at least one will keel over, or rage, in disgust.

Publisher Little, Brown has a little explaining to do.

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