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A BEAUTIFUL, COMPELLING LITERARY MEMOIR CAPTURING THE SPIRIT OF LATE 1990s NYC

My Salinger Year - 'Joanna Smith Rakoff',  'Joanna Rakoff'

I got wind of this book earlier this year via a radio interview the author gave with the BBC in London. She sounded like a bubbly, funny, and engaging person. Besides, what details she relayed from her book about her indirect relationship with J.D. Salinger made me want to buy it.

 

"My Salinger Year" has proven to be one of the most enjoyable and pleasant reading experiences I've had this summer. Rakoff recaptures for the reader the essence and flavor of her 1-year stint working for a New York publishing company in the late 1990s, just as the publishing world is poised to enter the digital age, which would sweep aside a host of long established practices and customs.

 

Rakoff's boss is the agent for the reclusive and celebrated writer J.D. Salinger. Rakoff's role is that of a loyal assistant in a dimly lit office where typewriters and Dictaphones still hold sway and "old-time agents doze at their desks" hungover from martini lunches. She's grateful to have this job, having freshly returned from London, where she had been a graduate student and lived with a boyfriend she loved but forsook when he opted to go on to Berkeley (CA) and she eventually settled for living in a dilapidated Brooklyn apartment with Don, a new boyfriend who is an avowed Socialist with a rather overinflated sense of himself and his literary talents.

 

Rakoff has her own dreams of a literary career, of finding herself as a writer. But for the time being, at the Agency, she is "tasked with answering Salinger's voluminous fan mail. But as Rakoff reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the ... decades-old form response." This leads to a gradual, yet profound change in Rakoff's approach to responding to Salinger's fervent fans.

 

This is a book that richly conveys the highs and lows, hopes and anxieties experienced by anyone in their early 20s set on finding him/herself and their place in society after surviving the rigors of university life. Anyone who reads this book will be charmed by it and find much in it that relates to the universal struggle faced by people anxious to make their mark in the world and thrive therein.