Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/30/2010

JD Salinger and the pursuit of happiness

JD Salinger died.

Like many Americans, I’ve been intrigued by Salinger since the ‘60s. And by Cormac McCarthy more lately, for somewhat the same reasons. Except I am continually astounded by McCarthy’s writing. That’s not to say I was never astounded by Salinger’s writing. For about a year in high school. I realized when I read Catcher in the Rye I was missing something in life. However, I would have found out soon enough anyway without reading Salinger. I left Omaha to go to California to a college I’d never seen and landed in a culture that might as well have been on Mars as far as my Midwest Baptist upbringing was concerned. I had never been to New York (that happened about ten years later). I had never had a drink (that happened about the same time—and was, of course, the biggest mistake of my life). Let’s not even talk about sex and Holden’s “perverty” people. At that time I hoped for some man to let me sleep on his sofa and wake me up in the middle of the night stroking my hair. My reaction would have been wildly different from Holden’s although I would have had no idea what to do about the situation. That is, by the way, the only scene from Catcher I remember clearly.

One of my colleagues at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, when her son was a teen-ager (in the late ’80s), re-read Catcher and told me it had held up very well, that she enjoyed it and had given it to her son to read. I don’t remember his reaction. She said she was once again taken by Holden’s coming to understand his personal freedom.

Cormac McCarthy and JD Salinger can exist in the same corner of one’s brain for only one reason. Neither of them has ever sought “fame” and “pop culture.” That’s not quite true of Salinger. He may have shunned fame and pop culture, but it did not shun him. And his very shunning of it made the pop culturists all the more determined to find him. For awhile. Then everyone lost interest. McCarthy, on the other hand, simply goes about the business of being a great writer and doesn’t make himself an icon by not being an icon. He writes. That’s all. One might say he perfectly exercises his freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of art.

My late ex-wife demonstrated for me the horrors of the hypergraphic life. If I am hypergraphic, she was hyper-hypergraphic. Hypergraphia is not liberty. And it has little to do with happiness or art. She wrote all the time. Literally. I have boxes of her journals. Are the life-long musings, reactions, fantasies, thoughts, analyses, and descriptions of everything from her sex life to meeting JD Salinger worth saving? Boxes. I’m not exaggerating. My hypergraphia is a controlled substance compared with hers. But we wrote together. We wrote to each other a lot. I didn’t keep up my end of the writing relationship (or many other aspects of our relationship) because I preferred drunkenness and other perverty activities to maintaining any relationship with anyone, especially with my wife. She chose her pursuit of happiness; I chose mine.

I should go to my storage bin and find her journal about meeting Salinger. It must have been pretty funny, after all. Her husband was a writer, pretty well-known in some circles (mainly in Canada). He wrote a novel with Salinger in it. They knew Salinger didn’t like being in a novel—and absolutely refused even to let his name be in a movie based on it. So somehow my ex-wife managed to browbeat Salinger into meeting with them. I think they stood at his front door while he stuck his head out and told them to go away and leave him alone and out of the movie.

I’m not sure that’s the way it went down, but I think that’s the story she told later. So he’s thinly disguised in the novel and in the movie. The story about Salinger and the novel (well, really about Salinger and the movie) is no secret (1).

I mention that only because of the hypergraphia thing. She wrote about Salinger. I have her journals from the early ‘80s when it happened. They’re pretty hard to decipher, but they exist. That’s what happens to hypergraphics. Or they start blogging and the rest is history. Is this writing my pursuit of happiness?

All of this is tied together with my writing of yesterday about serving God AND Wal-Mart. I haven’t figured out how to write that yet. But I will. Stay tuned. It will have something to do with the fact that, as far as I know, no corporation has written a novel yet. Or kept a journal in cursive writing and pictures. Or written a blog. We’ll see where that goes.
(1)  Ball, Sarah. “The Gospel According to Holden. Salinger himself, as well as his most famous character, has influenced pop culture, crime—even modern linguistics.” Newsweek. Newsweek Web Exclusive, Jan 28, 2010. Web. 31 January 2010.


  1. I have no idea what hypergraphic means. It’s not in the dictionary. Closest reference is hypergraphia, which means obsessed with writing. Is that what you meant?


    • Hypergraphic is the adjective form of the noun hypergrahia.
      It is also one who has the condition: a hypergraphic.


  2. Is it enabling when we would like to see the journal of Salinger your wife wrote?


    • No, it’s not enabling.
      My intention is to cull some of her journals and make interesting parts available.
      Many of her observations and experiences were/are fascinating.



%d bloggers like this: