If you love books, you’ll love My Salinger Year.

Book My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff

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.

What really matters if you want to get your writing published

manuscript submission piles at a publisher

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the field of publishing. I’m not even going to pretend that I know half of what my coworkers know about publishing. But there is one thing that I have learned for certain. If you, like me, consider yourself a writer and dream of one day when you can get a book published, what you really need to do is know how to write.

I know that sounds really obvious. You’re probably about to stop reading now and say, this girl is full of it. But hear me out.

I’ve seen countless manuscripts float through our fiction and memoir acquisitions department. I’ve seen submissions by experienced, published writers, I’ve seen submissions by recent MFA graduates, and I’ve seen submissions by the completely unknown, green writers. There is one thing all of these people have in common: some of their submissions are bad, most are mediocre, and a small few are very good.

When a manuscript lands itself on my desk, I look at the writing first. I do not look at the author’s credentials. I do not Google the author’s name. I read, I evaluate, and then I look further into the background of the person who labored over the words. And sometimes, I’m surprised.

Sometimes, I see that the author has had books published before, or has several prestigious degrees or awards under his or her belt, but I’m surprised, because the writing on its own was, really, not that good. And then I have a moment where I don’t know what to do. I come to the acquisitions editor and I tell her my quandary: I didn’t like this manuscript, but then I saw all that this author has done, and I thought maybe I missed something.

She tells me I didn’t; no matter the author’s Ivy League background or long list of published works, if the manuscript isn’t good, it’s not good. Maybe their other works are good, and then again maybe they’re not. But we’re not going to publish something we don’t think is good.

This can be really comforting. It’s nice to know both as a reader for acquisitions, and, of course, as a writer. It’s not that your experience doesn’t matter, because of course it does. An MFA undoubtedly gives writers an edge over others who didn’t pursue a higher degree with their writing, or perhaps got their degree in something else entirely. And a nice list of credentials and awards can go a long way to promote you. But in the end, the writing must speak for itself.

Isn’t that sort of comforting?

love always, Delia

That 8-5 Life

office life

What I look at every day.

Another milestone I’ve crossed in recent weeks is the 6 month mark of working my very first full-time, “adult” job, and I’ve gotta say, it’s been a learning experience almost as significant as getting married.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of jobs before. I’ve had so much retail experience it has actually cut into my pleasure in shopping. And I’ve truly experienced being busy to the max (try full-time student with a job, an internship, and dance rehearsals), so it’s not like I’m not used to spare time going out the window. It’s just that the full-time 8-5 experience in particular is quite different from the schedule I’ve gotten used to over the years.

What I’ve been used to is an ever-changing schedule composed of days broken up into pieces of class, work, dance, and homework. These days tended to start semi-late and end very late, and other than the concrete class, work, and dance rehearsal time commitments a few hours each day, I could basically go about my day doing whatever I wanted. I could do homework when I felt most productive. I could choose when to read, when to write, when to research, when to work on my fun art classes. As long as I finished all of my to-do items at the end of the week, I was good as gold.

Real life is not like that. A real life job will expect that you show up each morning around 8 and leave around 5, and in that very long time span in between, you are to focus on doing your job, with no distractions (even though let’s be honest, we still find distractions). There was a time not too long ago where I longed for a regular schedule like this. I thought the idea of a guarantee to not work over the weekends was a brilliant novelty I had to have in on, and the notion of not having more (home)work to do after already having gone to work was priceless. I haven’t exactly changed my mind on the awesomeness of either of these ideas, but I have had to come to terms with the fact that despite the predictability and steadiness of this new schedule, it is downright exhausting. I had never thought about how tiring it is to spend 10 hours or so every day getting ready for work, driving to work, working, grabbing lunch, working more, and then driving home. Put on top of that the occasional necessity to buy groceries and whip up dinner, and you’ve got a pooped Delia.

I’ve gotten used to the routine now, though. It took some time. But I think once I passed the four month point or so (and was able to enjoy a nice little winter break, thank you university employment!) I felt like I could get a handle on enjoying my new schedule. For the first few months that I was working at my new job, I would spend half my time, it seemed, when I was “off-duty” just preparing mentally and physically for going back “on-duty.” For example, I would stress out about having obligations on Sundays because those were my days of rest, and I didn’t want to do anything that might lose me some rest before going back to work for the week. I also used to get home during the week and want to just plop on the couch and never move–and sometimes I did just that. Which is fine, sometimes, but I’m so glad that I’ve also gotten to the point where I can make my evenings still productive without feeling like I’m losing out on being able to mentally regroup myself. I even feel sometimes that my productivity can be a form of regrouping. Like, fulfilling my love for cooking and writing can be a de-stresser? Weird?!

It’s definitely been an adjustment going through the motions of a weekly schedule, but I’m so thankful for my job and the opportunities it has to offer me. I’m really so lucky to have a job that gives me full time work,  is in my field of interest, offers me great benefits, is semi-flexible with the schedule, and has a great staff that I love. So, on the harder days, that is what I remind myself. I’m so lucky.

Besides, having this big kid job routine can be kind of fun. I mean, how often did you imagine when you were little one day going to work and doing something important like your parents did? And now, here I am, doin’ my work thang every day, just like them.  I wish I could go into more detail about what I actually do at my job all day, but alas, it seems that is for another day! At least the pictures may give some idea.

Has anyone else had a weird adjustment to a new job? Or am I the only one who’s really bad at change?