My Salinger Year | Book Review

I am writing this review without having finished this book – yet – a dangerous thing. But I have so many thoughts and I’m off sick and I need to get them out of my head!

This is a memoir which reads like a novel which feels like it has happened to me.

Exciting! Definitely a great first read of the year!
Joanna Rakoff is a writer, now, but in the 1990s when she was just starting out she was an assistant at a literary agency in New York. The Agency.

To protect clients and colleagues – I presume – the Agency is simply called the Agency and all of her colleague’s names are changed with her ‘boss’ simply being referred to as the boss.

I read the first 17 pages in one 10 minute sitting, completely engrossed on New Year’s Day. Joanna went to an interview at an agency, her first interview, in the exact same outfit that I chose to wear (carefully selected more like) when I went to an interview at a Literary Agency. Now this is pure coincidence but immediately I felt a connection.

New York City

I adore this cover too!
Also, having recently gone to New York and having gained a quick understanding of the streets I can picture Joanna walks on her morning commute. I can smell the bakeries and patisseries up the street near the Waldorf-Astoria and sense the grandeur of entering the offices and the higher-end martini lunch settings of the city.

Joanna describes it so well and without bluster that you feel like you live in New York City.

Literary Agency

Her story itself revolves around one year she works at the Agency – I don’t know if she stayed on longer yet as I haven’t finished! – but she was an assistant for a whole year: typing correspondence from an ancient Dictaphone, responding to fan mail for the Agency’s most predominant author and reading manuscripts on the sly over the weekend.

All of these things – in a more modern fashion when it comes to Dictaphones and correspondence – I have done over the course of my brief time in publishing and it feels so warmly familiar! I understand! High five me!

J.D. Salinger

The predominant client that I speak of at the Agency is none other than J D Salinger (or Jerry as he is known in the book). Salinger was a famous recluse – he stopped doing interviews in the 80s, was fiercely against corresponding with fans or attending events, he extremely particular about everything to do with his books and short stories from the font, cover pages and the typos that he chose to put in the books! Joanna surmised that he wanted complete control over his books and if someone suggested anything he would refuse as it was not in his control!

Not that Joanna dislikes Jerry – not in the slightest – her brief correspondence with him is over the telephone and he just sounds to be an eccentric, deaf old man with an unconscious talent for the written word. It’s not even until two thirds of the book in that she even admits to having his read his books! The description of when she does being a wonderfully moving moment!

But like I said – this is a memoir not a novel. But Joanna doesn’t just describe the Agency or Jerry, she describes her somewhat disastrous love life and personal life as well. From when she went home to her disapproving parents for her birthday only to receive all of the bills/debts that they’ve been paying for her (student loans, credit card bills) which they no longer want to pay. The total of said bills churning my stomach over twice!

Alienation & Relationships

She describes her alienation from friends she sees every day, but appear to be getting married or moving away or ignoring their dreams for everyday lives they all appear to enjoy. She describes colleagues with clear differences from Hugh her kindlier boss to Olivia the awful assistant and James the other, long-time assistant!

But most importantly, and most in-depth, she details her relationship with Don. For the majority of the memoir, so far, as she has stated that this relationship was never a clear cut relationship. For most of the beginning she pines after her college boyfriend, who she still loves, but she dumped to enter the world of publishing in New York. Don appears to be a socialist arse – from a upper to middle class background – who has written a novel about men’s admiration for women in a sexual nature (which, as a socialist, is really about class).

He’s basically a misogynist, and she knows it.

I’m not quite sure why the relationship is added in such vivid detail when the book, as a memoir, is entitled ‘My Salinger Year and so you’d think would be more about working in Agency, but clearly it is important to Joanna and it reads like a novel anyway!

Creative Non-Fiction

Joanna Rakoff

At times I catch myself breaking between the two types. Is it Creative Non-Fiction – most likely – or are bits made up as a filler? This was 20 years ago. She can’t really remember the conversations and where she was on certain days and in which cafes and restaurants she was in when she read that one novella manuscript etc.

But then againdoes it matter?

Writing Style

I feel such a connection to Joanna, and her writing, and not just because I feel very much in the same shoes as her (we probably picked the same pair since we seem to have very similar tastes).

Her writing flows magnificently, it’s fast-paced and yet slow. It’s moving and yet emotionless. It definitely won’t be for everyone. But it is resonating with me as a girl in publishing, as a girl attempting to move to a city for the first time, as a girl trying to move up in her career and her social life and as a girl who doesn’t know how to define her relationships and pines after things long gone.

It’s a stunning piece of literature. Which I’ve never heard anyone else ever talk about let alone read. And I just had to share my thoughts.

What are yours? Do you think you will read this book?

I would highly recommend it to other young people starting in publishing, particularly the literary agency side, or indeed anyone starting a new, high-pressured job in a big city away from home.

Let me know what you think!

Happy Reading x

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