You know those large chocolate bars you can buy with super-rich chocolate? And you know how if you ignore the temptation to consume it all at once but instead eat just a little bit at a time you can make it last and give yourself much more pleasure that way?
That is sort of how I feel about King Dork by Frank Portman. And I'm a chocoholic so that is a major compliment, in case that was not clear. I carried this book around for two months, reading just a few pages at each sitting, because I wanted to make it last.
I knew I would love this book when I first heard that a member of the punk band The Mr. T Experience had written a novel, which he was promoting with a YouTube video.
The fact the book is becoming a cult classic at the same time it is questioning why The Catcher In The Rye is itself a cult classic clinched the deal for me. I emailed Portman and begged for a copy of the book and an interview and he agreed to both.
The King Dork of the book's title is Tom Henderson, who is smart, funny, weird and awkward – pretty much how I remember myself being in high school. Henderson calls high school "the penalty for transgressions yet to be specified."
Henderson and his best friend, Sam Hellerman, suffer through the horror that is high school while developing new names for their band, spending much more time contemplating song and album titles than on, say, the actual music.
Henderson perfectly describes – okay, with perhaps slight exaggeration – the way The Catcher In The Rye is treated by the teachers:
I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties. It is every teacher's favorite book. The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield. For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a real dreamboat. They love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him, and with the book's author, too, and they'd probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives when they were young. As kids, they carried it around with them everywhere they went. They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.
It's kind of like a cult.
They live for making you read it. When you do read it you can feel them all standing behind you in a semicircle wearing black robes with hoods, holding candles. They're chanting "Holden, Holden, Holden…" And they're looking over your shoulder with these expectant smiles, wishing they were the ones discovering the earth-shattering jobs of The Catcher in the Rye for the very first time.