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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Signs of Change

Did You Catch the Essay on How Teenagers No Longer Like Holden?

If not, here it is: Stranglely enough, in looking for that article online, I found this essay by the Washington Post book reviewer Jonathan Yardly that disliked the book on adult re-reading, and for somewhat similar reasons as those expressed by the teenagers in the Times essay: Books age, or change, as we age. There is no particular reason why Catcher should shine just as brightly to every new generation. But the Times essay went beyong an analysis of Catcher (Yardly’s focus) to posing questions about teenagers themselves — and that is where this issue gets interesting.

The Times essay suggests that teenagers today not be as drawn to Holden and his angst, his search for truth, his alienation, because rather than feeling alone, apart from the crowd, they feel both constantly connected and frantic to achieve — to fill out their college resumes with endless accomplishment. They don’t want to break away, they seek out and celebrate new forms of digital connections — and at once find ways to make those links their own. And however crushing the college/test rat race may be, kids are not rejecting it. 

I’m not sure. As I mentioned several posts ago, David Bainbridge argues in his new book that turning inward and brooding is a result of biological changes, it is natural: Now that certainly opens up questions of cross-cultural and cross-historical comparison. Is it possible that teenagers can skip that phase of intense self-questioning? Should they? Can technology make a difference? And is Catcher a perfect gauge? Yardly disliked it not because he is on Facebook (if he is, or was when he wrote his essay) but because the book did not age well. And there have been quite a few studies that argue one big change in teenage is that kids and their parents are closer — subjects such as sexuality and identity that once might have left a teenager feeling totally isolated, might today lead to a bonding conversation with a parent, or a therapist, or both. Is that change more significant, or is the advent of the iphone? 

I don’t know but we do need to think about our digital readers, and how they may be different from the teenagers we recall being, or reading about.


  1. In working on a project for Johns Hopkins U., I came across a lesson plan at ReadWriteThink that combines text-messaging with Catcher. Perhaps adding technology-communication to assignments of classics as this mini-unit does would help kids relate. (Hmmm, Silas Marner keeping his money under his floor sounds pretty smart.)

  2. that’s a fun idea, not linking YA and classics ala Ted Hipple, but linking classic YA and technology

  3. Another way of incorporating technology into the classics, from National Council of Teachers of English Inbox: Twitter Goes Literary with Ulysses Performance
    Video game designer Ian Bogost from the Georgia Institute of Technology and colleague Ian McCarthy recreated Chapter 10, “Wandering Rock,” from Ulysses on Twitter. Yahoo!Tech, June 17, 2009
    Hopefully we’ll see more creativity in this direction, w/o turning kids off to either classics or technology in classroom.