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My Salinger Year
by Joanna Rakoff


Overview - Poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny: a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself entangled with one of the last great figures of the century.

At twenty-three, 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 for J.  Read more...


 
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More About My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
 
 
 
Overview
Poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny: a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself entangled with one of the last great figures of the century.

At twenty-three, 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 for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in a plush, wood-paneled office, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches. 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 instinct, Rakoff is tasked with answering Salinger's voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency's decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger's devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger's, on her own dangerous and liberating terms.

Rakoff paints a vibrant portrait of a bright, hungry young woman navigating a heady and longed-for world, trying to square romantic aspirations with burgeoning self-awareness, the idea of a life with life itself. Charming and deeply moving, filled with electrifying glimpses of an American literary icon, My Salinger Year is the coming-of-age story of a talented writer. Above all, it is a testament to the universal power of books to shape our lives and awaken our true selves.


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Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780307958006
  • ISBN-10: 0307958000
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publish Date: June 2014
  • Page Count: 249
  • Dimensions: 9.29 x 5.79 x 1.03 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.04 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Women
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Editors, Journalists, Publishers

 
BookPage Reviews

A young woman of letters

BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, June 2014

It was on a gray December day that 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff, nestled into her couch rereading Persuasion, received the call that she had gotten the job. Fresh out of grad school and without much of a game plan—aside from a deep-rooted desire to become a poet—Rakoff landed a position at one of the most storied literary agencies in New York City, one that represented such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Judy Blume.

In her absorbing new memoir, My Salinger Year, Rakoff (A Fortunate Age) recounts her time spent working as an assistant at what she simply refers to as “the Agency.” Even though it was the mid-1990s, the Agency office was a midcentury time capsule, where agents still smoked at their desks and there was nary a computer in sight, and a temple, where priceless first editions lined the endless shelves of books. After learning how to turn on her decades-old Selectric (that’s a typewriter, in case you didn’t know) and adjust the playback speed on her boss’ Dictaphone, Rakoff learned that one of her duties would be answering the fan mail of the Agency’s star client: the reclusive J.D. Salinger.

The letters to Salinger were voluminous, deeply personal and passionate about his works. It didn’t take long for Rakoff to ditch the form-letter response and start composing thoughtful, personalized replies—in secret, of course. The formidable, top-brass agent she worked for (referred to as “my boss”) is part Miranda Priestly, part Amanda Farrow, and deeply devoted to protecting Salinger’s privacy and legacy.

Naturally, there’s more to the book than just Rakoff’s job (and Salinger). There’s Don, her live-in socialist boyfriend with writerly ambitions of his own; there’s the striking contrast of making under $20k a year while living in a city and working in an industry that both revolve around vast amounts of wealth; there’s the universally relatable experience of being young and finding your own path in life.

Told with effortless, pitch-perfect prose, My Salinger Year is a deeply moving but unsentimental coming-into-your-own story that will keep readers thoroughly engrossed through the very last word.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Joanna Rakoff for this book.

 
BAM Customer Reviews