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The Great Hipster Lit Debate of July 2011

Sorry Miranda, you don’t belong…


Recently, The New Yorker’s Book Bench Blog (too many ‘b’s but always worth reading) took a trip to Sag Harbour. Their discovery: A ‘Hipster Lit' section in the local indie bookstore. Shocking. Like an animal that eats it’s young

The post explores the pervasive cultural significance of hipsterism and heavily references a recent n+1 publication on the ontological categorization of what it is to be genus Hipster

What’s interesting about this idea of hipsterism is that those that are no doubt categorized as such nevertheless use the term in a derogatory fashion and refuse to accept identification. This could then be the primary identifying factor.

The problem with further identifying hipsterism is that it can and will be all things. The only other distinguishing factor is that whatever it is, it is so in an inherently self-conscious fashion. Are you 34 years old and own a house, have two kids and drive a van? Are you a Egyptian Muslim youth striving for what you consider to be a ‘political revolution’? Regardless of the inherent distinctions, if you are painfully aware of those details of your own identification, then you, my friend. are a…. I dare not even say it because calling you one makes me one, too.

Thus, ironically (and this is real irony, not ‘hipster irony’, which is, ironically, most often not an actual example of irony), the one true way for an individual to prove that they are not a hipster is by proudly and confidently identifying themselves with the statement: I am a hipster

Just out of curiosity, I decided to take a quick peak at the books listed in the Hipster Lit section to see if I’d read any of them:

King Rat,” by China Miéville.

Haven’t read it.

2666,” by Roberto Bolaño.

Guilty. Actually, half guilty. It’s still sitting on my night table, splayed open.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” by José Saramago.

Nope. But do have a few of his books lying around the house. I found the narrative voice in Blindness an interesting stylistic choice, and the themes contained within were engaging, but to be honest I feel that there are others that have grappled with the same themes and formal choices in a more successful manner.

House of Leaves,” by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Busted. In my defence, I read it as a teenager. It is fundamentally a book for very young men. Boys, actually.


High Fidelity,” by Nick Hornby.

Like most others (many that I suspect merely claim to have read this) I only saw the movie. I have very little interest in Hornby.


Elliot Allagash,” by Simon Rich.

No dice.


Scorch Atlas,” by Blake Butler.

I have no idea what this is.

Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems,” by Billy Collins.

Nope. Sounds awful, which usually means that I’m just missing something that’s great.

Illuminations,” by Arthur Rimbaud.

Yep. Again, many moons ago.

Civilwarland in Bad Decline,” by George Saunders.

I just bought this and two other collections of his last week, oddly enough.

Siddhartha,” by Herman Hesse.

Nope, but I remember the age when my peers were hypnotized by this book. Buddhism was mentioned. I steered clear. Buddhism, the genital warts of religions.

Lush Life,” by Richard Price.

Read it and listened to the audiobook, which was one of the most entertaining experiences I’ve ever had with literature. If you haven’t read Richard Price, well, read Richard Price. More on that in a bit.

A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism,” by Peter Mountford. 

Ah, no.

The New York Trilogy,” by Paul Auster.

Again, a very, very long time ago. It all seemed so clever then. Not so much today.

I too was surprised by the lack of female representation and the heavy leanings towards a certain very introductory level of reading ability. I would have thought that there would have been more ‘big books’, such as 2666 (the New Yorker points out the glaring omission of the Great Book of the hipster epoch, Infinite Jest).

I am also surprised by the inclusion of Richard Price. I never imagined that his crime genre fiction would be considered on par with the overly clever literary set-pieces of the likes of Paul Auster or Mark Z. Danielewski. I suppose I’m most surprised because Price is fundamentally a better writer than those two, but also a much subtler one in his own way. Hipsterism is supposed to be about overt signs of decadence and prowess. The easily recognizable title tucked under the arm for all to see. Price’s crime fiction always seemed to be to be just one step too close to earnestness for the hip-set.  

As a funny aside, the L Magazine has run a response to this post where they cleverly ask Would Hipsters Buy From the Hipster Lit Section? Of course, they ruin it by surmising that this section at this single store in Sag Harbourwas created by a women-hating, or at least women-ignoring, Norman Mailer acolyte.’ The melodramatic link embedded beneath Mr. Mailer’s name is their doing, not mine (although it is a rather entertaining tidbit). 

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