Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Dude! Holden's so lame!"

One of the first times I became aware of Catcher in the Rye was back in junior high school when the Coolest Kid In The School -- imagine a combination of Draco Malfoy and James Dean -- was reading it. When a few of us asked him to tell us about it, he simply gave us a disdainful look which seemed to say, "There is no way I can explain to you losers the profundities contained in this novel."

Times seemed to have changed. Catcher is back in the news because last week a judge issued a temporarily injunction preventing the publication in this country of an unauthorized sequel by a Swedish writer who goes by the name of J. D. California. This event led to an article in the New York Times by Jennifer Schuessler suggesting that modern teenagers, who often have to deal with J. D. Salinger's book as assigned reading, find the misadventures of Holden Caulfield, the novel's teenage protagonist, to be, well, "phony" (to use one of Holden's favorite words). It's evidently difficult for today's adolescents to identify with a disenchanted prep school kid who runs away to New York City trying to find some way of living that doesn't require compromises with either the shallowness of his school or the conformity of the adult world. Says Schuessler: "Today's pop culture heroes, it seems, are the nerds who conquer the world -- like Harry [Potter], -- not the beautiful losers who reject it." Or, as one 15-year-old told her, "Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, 'Shut up and take your Prozac.'"

By the way, I don't know what ever happened to that Coolest Kid In The School who was such a Holden Caulfield fan. He probably ended up as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs and is now living off a $100 million buyout bonus. What a loser.

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