Catcher, Perks, Teen Literature & Hipsters

Everyone knows by now that J.D. Salinger died not too long ago. The only book that anyone's ever read by him is The Catcher in the Rye. I read it, but not when I was supposed to - I was never assigned it in high school or anything. I read it when I was maybe 18 or so, without being prompted by a teacher. Maybe that's why I didn't like it that much.

If you've never read it, you can read it here - if you're the type that can read whole books online, I suppose. Interesting about books with a very distinct style, like this one - when I first looked at that site and read the first page, I was even more turned off than I was when I first read the book. But after a few pages I felt myself being hooked. I suppose that's what makes a good writer? 

click to enlarge.

I saw the above comic on Andrew Lorenzi's comic blog. I'm not sure if I "get" what he's trying to say, comparing Robin and Holden in this way. I wonder what it was like growing up as a kid in the city during the golden age of comic books, and feeling like you connected with them, maybe because you didn't have television or movies so accessible. 

Makes me wonder, as someone who found comics later in life - did kids growing up reading Batman connect with Batman, or did they connect with Robin? Why did all of those old comic book superheroes have kid sidekicks? Reminds me of Kavalier & Clay and how Clay was accused of corrupting kids' minds with the "homosexual" subtext of his comic book creations.

I remember not really liking Catcher until the end, and I think that's because I knew right away that Phoebe was my favorite character. I think she, unlike Holden, isn't a phony. I haven't read the book in a while, so I don't remember why I liked her so much. But I remembered thinking, man if Phoebe was my age she'd be the kind of girl I'd want to date. Apparently she's a big deal, I didn't remember thinking about it much before.

The real interesting thing about Holden Caulfield specifically, and Catcher in general, is the impact it has had on untold thousands of teenagers. I remember when I first started blogging in middle school, before my current blog arrived at its current blogosphere dominance, on xanga. There were a number of "groups" with titles like "I am Holden Caulfield." And I think that's how a lot of teenagers responded to the book. Catcher spoke to us, man, it's like, the book was about us. 

I never felt that way. But I did feel that way about what I think was my generation's version of the book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It resonated with everyone in the late 90s / early 2000s who dressed like this:

Is bro on the left Elijah Wood?

We were nerds, or we listened to "emo," or whatever. We were misunderstood, man, nobody "got" us, we couldn't deal with the popularity contest, or whatever, you know. Anyway, much like Catcher, the book's popularity with a certain underclass of teenagers followed a similar trajectory of an indie buzzband of the moment - championed as the "next big thing," achieves a modicum of mainstream acceptance, and then is derided as no longer cool (see Death Cab for Cutie). Perks has been aligned with today's hipsters enough that a cute little criticism of it can be seen going around the web even today:

I laughed at this. Makes sense. You prolly gotta read the book to get it. But it kinda upset me a bit, I mean, I read Perks at least five times throughout my teen years; I bought it and gave it as a gift to then-girlfriends or whatever a bunch of times. Probably wrote "read this book and it will help you understand me" in the front page or something. Did everyone that read Perks in high school also dress like the emo bros above and then evolve over the years into today's hipster? 

What can you learn about the hipster aesthetic by reading Perks? I don't know. I feel like today's hipsters are those who overcompensated for their low self-esteem and self-perceived inadequacies and unpopularity by putting too much stock in being "cooler-than-thou" and intentionally "misunderstood."

Both Catcher and Perks glorified (or at least validated) that unpopular/misunderstood teen aesthetic, and that's why they were so popular with the alts of the past. You found solidarity there. They said, "hey dude, things are gonna be OK. It's alright to be a weird dude who enjoys books and music more than your peers. Keep on keepin' on.

I think today's hipsters would deny having read/enjoyed either of these books, much like we tend to deny the bands we used to listen to that aren't cool anymore (self-disclosure: I was way into Alanis Morissette and No Doubt in the 90s and New Found Glory and Blink 182 in the early 2000s). 

Did you read Catcher in the Rye?
Did you read hipster runoff's post about Salinger (better than this one) (still finding my voice, dudes)
Was it life-changing and represented you as a teenager?
Or was it phony over-stylish BS?
Did you think Phoebe was the only cool character?
Are old-school comic books better than today's webcomics?
What's up with young sidekick dudes partnering with older, bachelor crime-fightin' dudes?
Did you read Perks?
Did you like Catcher better than Perks?
If you read Perks, were you an "emo" back then? Are you a Hipster now?


  1. 1. I think that is Elijah Wood. I'm kind of an expert on him, so...
    2. I've read all of Salinger's published works. Catcher is not the best. I think Nine Stories is. Hipsters think Franny and Zooey is. I did not read hipster runoff's post, but did you mean for yours to sound like Holden? I like that, like Vonnegut (and L'Engle, but that's another story), Salinger worked with the same characters a lot.
    3. The only time I've read it all the way through without reading other things in-between was when I was 15, for AP summer reading. I liked it, but I don't think I understood it very well. I liked A Separate Peace better.
    4. I think the sidekicks thing has something to do with bromance.
    5. I read Perks. I didn't realize until a couple of years ago that it was popular. I think I liked Catcher better. I'm a older-author snob.
    6. I listened to emo music, but I leaned more towards the punk-rockers. We listened to Goldfinger and Rancid. But also Blink-182 and NFG. A couple of months ago I told Ben Bullock (oh shoot, it IS a small world, because no we've never met. I knew Ben and Becca in H.S.) "Remember in high school when New Found Glory was the best band ever and we would drive around Atherton playing it really loud?" and he said, "New Found Glory is still the best band." And then I knew he wasn't a hipster.

  2. Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books. I too read it way too early. The first time I was in 7th grade. I found it in my mom's bookcase and asked her way too many questions about hookers and prep schools. Then I probably read it once every couple years. The last time I read it was this last October. Every time I read it, I take away new truths and now I can barely fathom reading it so young because it has so many layers.

    Phoebe is special because she isn't phony. Holden is so caught up in not impressing people and giving up and she's the one person that believes in him and is hopelessly optimistic. She's not tarnished by failure or rejection -- which he is.

    I think you should read it again. Even if you don't like it, you may see it differently.

    I liked Stradlater too. I thought he was interesting. I liked his interactions with his roommates at Pency.

  3. @afishh

    I thought it was Elijah! Weird. I didn't think he used to dress like that?

    I got Franny & Zooey from the library very recently so we'll see if I like it too :)

    I loveddd NFG and Blink 182 so much. I went to a show of theirs once. Gosh... I still know all the lyrics...

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  5. @joanna

    I think I might need to read it again. Maybe it was too dense and I didn't get all that I could out of it. But I was like 20 when I read it for the first time... All I remember is thinking Holden was annoying.

    I do love Phoebe though. She's my fave.