My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Hardcover, 252 pages
Published June 3rd 2014 by Knopf
This is the memoir of a year in the life of Joanna Rakoff. It’s the ‘90s, and after leaving grad school, Joanna moves to New York city to become a writer. It’s harder to do than she had expected. It’s costly living in the city that never sleeps, so she takes a job as an assistant at the literary agency that represents JD Salinger. This agency is like stepping back in time to a “bygone age”—wood-panelled walls, typewriters, and dictaphones.
“For my boss, the Agency was not just a business, it was a way of life, a culture, a community, a home. It had more in common with an Ivy League secret society, or—though it would take a while for me to see the extent of this—a religion with its practices defined and its gods to worship; Salinger being the first and foremost; Fitzgerald as sort of a demigod; Dylan Thomas, Faulkner, and Langston Hughes, and Agatha Christie lesser deities.”
Although it may not be Joanna’s dream job, this is an important step along the way. She becomes immersed in the literary world—even if it’s not the way she had anticipated.
“I wanted to be Max [one of the agents]… To be Max was not just to broker big deals but to be utterly engaged with the contemporary literature, as entangled with the ins and outs of narrative style as I’d been as a grad student, albeit in a far less rarefied way, to be in daily conversation with great writers and editors who cared deeply about words, language, story, which was another way of simply being engaged with the world of trying to make sense of the world, rather than retreating from it, trying to place an artificial order to the messy stuff of life…”
This book made me feel a bit less alone. While I know logically there are people out here with similar interests and ambitions—but I don’t know any of them. I often found myself wanting to be her. To live in New York city. To have an experience like that. I want to feel like the literary and art world is more real and more close to home.
I really liked this book. I had a few qualms with it—mainly that there were a lot of run on sentences—but I loved reading about Joanna’s experience. It was, for the most part, really inspiring. Rakoff’s personal life was a bit of a train wreck for a while there, but she learned what she needed to learn, and got where she needed to go.
I’d recommend this book to those who enjoy memoirs and those who have an appreciation for literature.
Beth is the founder and editor of Fuelled by Fiction. She is a twenty-something east coast Canadian girl who loves writing about books and feminism.