Today I want to talk a little bit about the latest piece of literature I have had the opportunity to read. It’s not often that I write a review post—in fact, by my count this is only my third one in total—which is actually kind of weird because I silently write reviews of every movie I see and book I read all the time—so you know that this is something that really struck a chord with me.
The book in question today is a memoir called My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff. Joanna is a young woman who, fresh out of grad school, moves to New York City and lands a job as an assistant to the literary agent who represents J.D. Salinger. When Joanna first enters the world of this literary agency where typewriters and Dictaphones still reign (though it is 1996), she is struck by the different approach agents, particularly her boss, take towards literature. While she grew up loving to read classic literature and pursued an English degree, her boss thought of all manuscripts as potential business deals. Money, it seems, is more important to the literary world than she had thought.
It is also more important to living in New York City than she might have hoped. Though she notes the wealth all around her in New York, Joanna cannot even afford a decent sandwich on her lunch breaks, and shares with her boyfriend a one bedroom apartment that has no heater and no kitchen sink.
This memoir is about the year Joanna worked for J.D. Salinger’s agency. It is about the year in which she was tasked with answering Salinger’s fan mail, in which she spoke with the somewhat legendary (and secluded) Salinger on the phone, and brought herself to read all of his books in one emotional weekend. But do not think this memoir is about Salinger.
No, the best thing about this memoir is that it is all about Joanna, about the literary and publishing worlds, about New York City, about the state of the world as computers first began to step foot on the scene, about reading and writing, about youth and growing up and love and hope.
I would suggest that anyone with any remote interest in any of those things read this book. You will see the timeless New York City come alive with Joanna’s eloquent language. You will feel her conflicted emotions working for an agency, wanting to be a writer. You will see her struggle living with her boyfriend, wondering if she made the right choice leaving her college boyfriend and California behind. You will see the world of publishing unfold; talk of contracts, rights and permissions, and electronic rights (a newfangled idea the agency always denied publishers) eventually make their way into Joanna’s vocabulary, something that particularly moved me, as I myself experienced those same new learnings just over a year ago. You will find yourself immersed in the not-so-distant past, where email is a controversial subject and cell phones aren’t even on the radar. You may find yourself wanting to read or re-read many of Salinger’s books. But above all, this book will leave you wanting to live a little deeper, to love a little deeper, and to find something, some experience of your own that might move you to tears and make your mark.