The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown, $7). Unoriginal though it may be to say so, this novel was my first love. Who (especially at 13) could resist the invitation to see the world through such disillusioned but still idealistic eyes? Holden Caulfield’s New York City blurs with the one of my own teenage years, and his voice echoed for me long after I shamefully realized I was copying it.
The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (Vintage, $14). I wish I could explain why this Jeeves novel is better than that Jeeves novel, but I won’t pretend to think there’s that much of a difference. Put Bertie Wooster and his matchless manservant between any two covers, and I will eagerly meet them there.
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (Ballantine, $15). A perfectly structured, perfectly plotted, even perfectly titled novel about an imperfect hero. Tragedy creates a protagonist who is entirely different from the man he thinks he is. In allowing us to become such intimate witnesses to change, Tyler makes us wonder what other versions of ourselves lie dormant.
The World According to Garp by John Irving (Random House, $8). This saga was my introduction to the world according to Irving: preposterous, dialectical, macabre, unpredictable. And you can never have too many bears.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Aerie, $4). There’s a reason this book remains a page-turner after more than a century and despite its obvious anachronisms. Huck Finn is really a love story. Boy meets river. Boy loses river. Boy gets river.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $14). I’ve never really thought it was Jay Gatsby who made the book so indelible; for me it’s always been narrator Nick Carraway, in whose speech and through whose eyes the Jazz Age unfolds so vibrantly. “In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” Case closed.