Books / Book Reviews

Review: My Salinger Year – Joanna Rakoff

08.20.14
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Many years ago, as a graduate fresh out of university, I had to make the tricky decision of choosing between doing a master’s degree in English Literature  – for which I had won a scholarship and which would have involved studying in Paris for six months – or interning at various publishing houses until I was offered a job. After much deliberation I chose the latter option, and thus begun several months of interning; for Bloomsbury, for Penguin and finally for Midas – an experience that certainly whet my appetite for an industry in which I now work.

Thus it was with great interest that I began My Salinger Year – a memoir about literary New York in the 1990s by Joanna Rakoff, who after graduating from University gets a job at a New York literary agency, and goes on to work as an assistant to the literary agent for the infamous writer J.D. Salinger.

Much of My Salinger Year resonated with my experience of working in publishing in my early twenties – the joy of being in an office surrounded by books; the esteem with which you hold your more learned colleagues, and the utter awe that washes over you when you meet an author for the first time.

Rakoff’s memoir is as much about the transition from student life to working life as it is about her time spent in publishing, and is a wonderfully charming tale that is both poignant and nostalgic.

An unputdownable and heart-warming read that will appeal to anyone who loves books, My Salinger Year is an enchanting coming-of-age tale about a young woman and an esteemed writer and it’s an ode to being young and sort-of single in New York. It’s about finding your feet in a big city, living in an unheated apartment in Williamsburg, making friends with other underpaid literati, and ultimately it’s a love letter to literature and the sort of seminal years that change us all.

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My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff Summary

Poignant, keenly observed, and irresistible: a memoir about literary New York in the late ’90s, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself swept into one of the last great stories and entangled with one of the last great figures of the century.

At 23, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent of J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in the plush, wood-paneled agency, where Dictaphones and typewriters still prevail and old-time agents doze at their desks in the late afternoon, and at night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic talent, Joanna is tasked with responding to Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the deeply candid letters from his fans, she finds herself abandoning the agency’s form letter and writing her own responses. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s, on her own dangerous and wonderful terms.

Joanna Rakoff paints a vibrant portrait of a bright, hungry young woman moving through a heady and much-longed for world, trying to square romantic aspirations with burgeoning self-awareness, the idea of a life with life itself. My Salinger Year is a graceful, deeply moving literary fairytale and the coming-of-age story of a talented young writer.

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Buy My Salinger Year from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, Waterstones, Amazon or Amazon AU.

Further reading

I absolutely loved this on the Boston Globe: She answered JD Salinger’s fan mail, and now her memoir is a movie.

Joanna Rakoff Author Bio

Joanna Rakoff is the author of the international bestselling memoir My Salinger Year and the novel A Fortunate Age, winner of the Goldberg Prize for Fiction, the Elle Readers’ Prize, and a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller. Rakoff’s books have been translated into twenty languages and nominated for major prizes in The Netherlands and France. She has written frequently for The New York Times, Vogue, Marie Claire, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other publications.

More Joanna Rakoff books

Joanna Rakoff has also written A Fortunate Age, which won the Goldberg Prize for Fiction.

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