In Chapter 3 Holden Caulfield, still at Pencey, is trying to read a book in his dorm room. In his typically digressive way, he talks about many different things in the same paragraph.
The book I was reading was this book I took out of the library by mistake....They gave me Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. I thought it was going to stink, but it didn't. It was a very good book. I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot. My favorite author is my brother D.B. and my next favorite is Ring Lardner. My brother gave me a book by Ring Lardner for my birthday, just before I went to Pencey.
Thinking about reading Out of Africa leads Holden, by what seems like a process of free association, to talk about his likes and dislikes in literature. It is noteworthy that he says "I'm quite illiterate, but I read a lot." Elsewhere he says that he is the only "dumb one" in his family. Actually the books and authors he mentions in just one paragraph suggest that he is quite literate, a lover of good books, and a good judge of literature. Why had he gotten such a bad opinion of himself? He thinks he is illiterate and dumb. This can only be because of his poor academic record. He shows in his discussion of books that one of his major problems is that he isn't able to concentrate. Another major problem is that he completely lacks discipline. He is flunking out of four classes because he didn't do the homework, but at the same time he is devouring books that haven't been assigned by any teacher.
I read a lot of classical books, like The Return of the Native and all, and I like them, and I read a lot of war books and mysteries and all, but they don't knock me out too much.
He has read Somerset Maugham's best novel, Of Human Bondage, as well as Thomas Hardy and Isak Dinesen. He especially likes a book that makes him wish the author were a close friend whom he could call up on the phone whenever he felt like it. He admits that he would not feel like calling Somerset Maugham up. Maugham was probably the most famous author in the English-speaking world, but he had an austere, forbidding personaliity.
J. D. Salinger chose to write a novel in which he used a rebellious sixteen-year-old boy as the narrator. For the sake of verisimilitude, Salinger had to establish that his creation Holden Caulfield was capable of writing a novel of the caliber of The Catcher in the Rye. One of the ways Salinger did this was by having two of Holden's teachers praise him for his talent for writing compositions. Stradlater also acknowledges that Holden is a good writer. Another way Salinger establishes that Holden is able to write a perceptive, funny, amotionally apapealing, and interesting novel is by having his narrator talk about his extensive extracurricular reading.
Holden's tastes are eclectic. He reads whatever he likes and, obviously, fails to read whatever he doesn't like. He has read lots of classics like The Return of the Native and others by Thomas Hardy, and he has also read Ring Lardner, war books and mysteries "and all." He is a voracious reader. Otherwise, he would not be capable, despite his high intelligence, of putting any kind of a novel together. He has read enough novels to have a general idea of what one should look like. The great master Henry James once said, "The only thing we should require of a novel is that it be interesting."
Holden reads more than anybody in his school, including his teachers--and he is flunking out!