[Book Review] My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

My Salinger YearWhile on vacation, I dipped into Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year, because every time I opened Good Reads and blog posts, I’d see a review for this book. Of course it wasn’t too heard to twist my arm when I read the description of this book.

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… J.D. Salinger.

In the late 90’s computers were just starting to make their debut and although many were keen to be a part of this new wave of technology, some were very hesitant, including Rakoff’s boss at ‘The Agency’. Forced to use carbon paper, dictaphones and typewriters, Joanna works as an assistant taking calls, reading some good and not so good manuscripts and typing. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that one of the Agencies best known clients is the literary icon J.D. Salinger, or as he’s often referred to in this memoir, Jerry. When people call to speak with Jerry, Joanna is asked to deflect the call and if the man himself calls, she’s told that she’s not to speak to him and send the call directly to her boss. Of course, there are times her boss is unavailable and she has to speak to Salinger who is described as a charming and kind man.

One of her other duties is to respond to the massive amount of fan mail that gets delivered daily for Salinger. Because there’s an extreme amount of mail coming in, an automatic response is created. But after a few uses, Joanna feels like the response is stale and insincere so she takes it upon herself to create heartfelt and thoughtful responses. Some of her responses are appreciated, some… not so much.

Joanna’s story doesn’t just take place at the Agency, it jumps back and force to her personal life where she’s socializing, living in a Joanna Rakoffcrappy Williamsburg apartment and trying to justify her relationship with the socialist Don. Don was the one part of her story that I didn’t enjoy. I found him to be an arrogant person that didn’t bring much joy into Joanna’s life. But as many of us know, some relationships aren’t the best fit.

Salinger has become a literary phenomenon, because most of his work is read during our years of adolescence and many find his work relatable. This is  a memoir about self discovery, so it only makes sense that Joanna was able to identify with the books he’d written and understand the man who called the agency once a month. As someone who started their professional career becoming close friends with the photo copy machine and directing phone calls to people, I found Joanna’s memoir entertaining. If you’re fascinated with J.D. Salinger, the 90’s, New York and/or publishing, you’ll love My Salinger Year.

12 Books You May Have Missed in the First Half of 2014

The great thing about books is that they never go out of style. You can read them on your own accord and I can guarantee you that no one will approach you on the streetcar, in the park or the coffee shop and say “that book was so last year”. Many times book bloggers (myself included) are reviewing books that are current and once a book has come and gone, you’ll be hard pressed to find it on a blog or in your local paper. So I thought it would be fun to point you in the direction of some great reads that came out in 2014. Yes, I know, it’s still 2014. The books I want to chat about are some of the books that hit the shelves in the first six months of 2014. They are books that will make you cry, make you laugh and  books that will make you think. So let’s get started,

Medicine WalkMedicine Walk by Richard Wagamese – I’ve been a fan of Richard Wagamese’s since I read Keeper ‘N Me when I was in University. The ideas and the messages he infuses in his novels are important and relevant. The same can be said of his most recent book that was published in early April. Medicine Walk is the story of sixteen year old Franklin Starlight who is called to visit his father, Eldon. They don’t have a great relationship, but his Father needs him and he feels an obligation to be there for him. When they’re reunited, Franklin see that years of drinking have crippled his Father knows the end is near. He begs his son to take him into the mountains to be buried in a traditional Ojibway manner.

This is a story of love, family and the lengths that a son will go to ensure his Father wishes are met. It’s a story of courage and love and it’s not one to be missed.

Crimes Against My BrotherCrimes Against My Brother by David Adams Richards – I made it my mission to let everyone know how much I enjoyed David Adams Richards newest book, but if didn’t see my enthusiasm, you’ve come to the right post. I’ve been meaning to read DAR for quite some time. Of course as an English Major, we were required to read some of his work in University, but I didn’t. I hope my English professors aren’t reading this… Needless to say, my colleague Shona was really excited about this book, so I took the plunge finally and WOW. Just wow. I couldn’t stop reading this novel about Howard, Evan and Ian. Three boys who are inseparable as children take very different paths as adults. To quote Random House Canada, “Crimes Against My Brother is a tale of such force, gravitas, complexity, universality, and compassionate understanding that he reaffirms his status as a master storyteller who has, book by book, used his rare genius to create an entire, teeming universe alongside a river in a small northern part of the world.” If your interested in this book (and you should be), check out this blog post on Retreat by Random House that contains an excerpt, a reading from DAR and an audio book club starring yours truly (and my fabulous pal Shona).

Creativity IncCreativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull – This book may have been marketed towards managers, but don’t let that deter you from picking up this extraordinary book, because it’s for anyone who wants to showcase their creativity in the workplace. It’s for anyone who’s part of a creative team who are keen to contribute ideas (good and sometimes bad) with the understanding that their hands have a part in the final product. Ed Catmull is the co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, so he knows a thing or two about what it means to be creative, but he also knows the importance of relying on his team to create ideas and garner creativity.

You’ll become inspired, you’ll want to nurture your creativity and you’ll learn so much – so make sure you have a notepad, a pen and a highlighter handy while reading!

One More ThingOne More Thing by B.J. Novak – I got the chance to read this book before it’s publication and I devoured it on a chilly  November afternoon. I feel like it’s necessary to point out that although this is Ryan from The Office, B.J. Novak’s One More Thing is not a memoir. You’re not going to get behind the scenes look at The Office or The Mindy Project and you’re not going to read about how he got his start in Hollywood. But you will read some of the best stories I’ve ever read. Straight forward, funny, well written stories.

Some are short and some are longer, like the hilarious (and I mean hilarious) No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg. The story of a seventy year old man who recently passed and arrived in heaven only to realize that his Grandmother is much too busy in the afterlife to make any concrete dinner plans with him. Do you and your funny bone a favour and pick up this book… now!

AJ FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – I was all for temporary tattoos that read “A.J. Fikry is my homeboy” but it didn’t happen. A.J. Fikry is having a rough go at life, his beloved wife has passed and it’s sent him into a spiral of unhappiness. He gets agitated easily, especially when he has to encounter other people. Of course, this poses a problem when you’re the owner of a New England bookstore named Island Books; their motto being, “No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World”. Things take a whole new direction when not only does he get a new sales representative from Knightley Press who’s determined to try to get him to try new booksbut he wakes up one morning to discover that there has been a baby left in his bookstore. Filled with ups and downs of emotions; happiness, sadness, aggravation, this story not only hits you right in the feelings, but it has so many references to that feeling of being a book lover. What more could you want!?

All My Puny SorrowsAll My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews – I’ve yet to meet a person that has read this book and hasn’t cried their eyes out. Yet, somehow Miriam Toews can make you laugh out loud while you’ve got tears streaming down your face. I want to do the description justice, but I think the publisher says it best, “All My Puny Sorrows, at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. In her beautifully rendered new novel, Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart.”

Be sure to check out the fabulous book trailer of the book too!

I Don't Know What You Know Me FromI Don’t Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer – What do 13 Going on 30, The Wedding Planner and 27 Dresses all have in common? They all feature Judy Greer as the loveable, yet quirky BFF role! Judy Greer has honed her skills at playing the role of the co-star and she knows it. It only made sense that she’ write a memoir and call it, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions from a Co-StarJudy takes us back to her early days of bad hair and really bad hair (no judgement… I could haul out some pictures that would have you laughing out loud), to a time when she had aspirations to make it in Hollywood. With her parents support and a license plate that literally read “star 2 be”, she notes that in reality, it should have read “co-star 2 be”, she packed her bags and headed to the big city. The memoir is a collection of essays filled with stories, insight and advice that makes you feel like you’re hearing stories and getting tips from a best friend. And as noted, she plays that best friend role oh so well.

My Salinger YearMy Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff – I have yet to review this book on my blog having just read it on vacation, but let me tell, this is one memoir you won’t want to miss! This is a book for book lovers, because it’s the tale of Joanna Rakoff in the early 90’s when she work for a literary agency. Oh but that’s not it. She works for J.D. Salinger’s agency, so when her boss tells her to direct all calls from Jerry to her, she freaks out. Since I’ve yet to review it, here’s what Random House has to say about it, “Joanna 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.”

Book of Unknown AmericansThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez – Oh the tears. So, so many tears. This is one of those books that will stay with you for years to come. What happens when a Panamanian teenage boy and a Mexican girl fall in love in America? This story. Told with a haunting and captivating voice, Cristina Henriquz examines the life of two immigrant teenagers struggling with the hurdles of trying to navigate a new country while holding on to their heritage. Confronted with language barriers, society acceptance and adolescence, The Book of Unknown Americans is a heart-breaking page turner.

Keep Your Friends CloseKeep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly – I was in a coffee shop when I finished this book and I remember audibly gasping so loud that people looked over at me as I closed the book. This is the story of Natty and Sean Wainwright and Natty’s best friend, Eve Dalladay. Due to an emergency, Natty leaves their home for two weeks and it’s in those two weeks that Eve moves in to take her place. Then the unthinkable occurs. Sean and Eve fall for each other and Natty is mystified and appalled. Things take a whole other turn when she receives a note in the mail that reads, Eve has done this before, more than once. Don’t let her take what’s yours. 

Smart, gripping and on the edge of your seat reading, Paula Daly has a knack for writing thrillers. You won’t be able to put this one down!

Jennifer Gwyneth and MeJennifer, Gwyneth and Me by Rachel Bertsche – What woman hasn’t seen pictures of Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, or Beyoncé and wished she had their clothes, their abs, their seemingly flawless lives? For Rachel Bertsche, these celebrities are the epitome of perfection—self-assured and effortlessly cool. So it only makes sense that she spends a year emulating their lifestyles to feel more put together. Eating like Gwyneth, making pregnancy look cool like Jessica Alba or channeling Julia Roberts inner piece, Rachel sets a budget and works to live like a star. This was a fun book for anyone that types http://www.tmz.com into their browser at least once a week. As the Chicago Tribune notes, “Written with verve, insight, and humor … Bertsche writes cleverly, but not glibly, about the challenges young women face today.”

Elizabeth is MissingElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – Emma Healey is in her early twenties, yet somehow she’s able to articulate the voice of an 80 year old woman named Maud in her debut novel. Maud is slowly losing her memory and her pockets and home is filled with notes with constant reminders about things she needs to do. The worst part is that the she can’t contact her friend Elizabeth. She believes that she’s disappeared and because of her current state, no one will listen to her, not her daughter and certainly not Elizabeth’s son. Her search starts to uncover memories of another unsolved disappearance–that of her sister, Sukey, who vanished more than 50 years ago, shortly after the Second World War. Smart with a touch of thriller components, Elizabeth is Missing is a fantastic read you won’t want to miss!

If I’ve missed one of your 2014 (so far) favourites, share with me below in the comments! 

Things I Understand Now that I’ve Finally Read the Harry Potter Series

harry potter setSome of you may remember that back in January, I shared with the world that I had never read the Harry Potter series. I expected the reaction I received; shocked, gawking, sometimes even judging faces. But what I didn’t expect were so many of you becoming Harry Potter cheerleaders. Many of you would write and say how jealous they were that I got to experience the novels for the first time, many people wrote and shared that they couldn’t wait to discuss the series with me when it ended. Of course, each  time I did finish a book, I’d say to my friends in a really excited tone, “And then Harry and Ginny finally kissed” and they’d look at me and say “I know. I read the series when it came out ten years ago.”

Since the Harry Potter phenomenon has been part of our culture for seventeen years now, there are many references to it in mainstream culture that I never quite understood. Now that I’ve finally read the series thanks to Just a ‘Lil Lost’s Harry Potter Reading Challenge, I can finally be a part of the conversations about all things Harry Potter and I now (like the rest of you) can get really excited when anything HP happens, such as a short story by J.K. Rowling being written. As I read the series, I jotted down things that were missing puzzle pieces in what I thought I knew about Harry Potter. I made note of the way people reacted about this series and how it became a pop culture phenomenon. Now that I’ve finally finished the seven books in the series, I want to share my observations with you!

Why You Weren’t Allowed to use the Name of ‘He Who Shall Not be Named’  – Recently I rewatched the first season of Orange is the New Black and as Piper and Larry are sitting in their home discussing her upcoming jail sentence, Larry makes the comment, “you can say the word jail, it’s not like we’re talking about Lord Voldemort.” Up until 7 months ago, I really didn’t know why you couldn’t just speak the name of the evil man in the Harry Potter series. Of course, now I know that to speak Lord Voldemort’s name suggests that you have no fear of him and therefore no respect for him. This is why the Death Eaters even avoided using his name in conversations.

Why People Booed Draco Malfoy – Before I began reading the series, I remember watching a Teen Choice Award Ceremony (or some equivalent award show) in which  the actor Tom Felton won an award for ‘Best Villian’. He got up there to thank his Mom, Dad and his fans and everyone booed him. I remember watching and thinking that it was so sad. That all this young kid did was play a mean boy in the movie and people were acting so rudely to him. Now of course while I still think it’s wrong that people would boo a young actor who played a character, I get it. Draco Malfoy was a mean young man who was not only vindictive, but evil. How his character played out from start to finish was one of my favourite part of reading the series.

Why there’s a Harry Potter Themed Park – Before reading these books I imagewent to Universal Studios in Florida. I walked around not knowing what Butter Beer was, I sure as heck didn’t understand why you could buy Chocolate Frogs and had no idea why goblins were running the imaginary bank. I was naive to the monstrosity of what I was witnessing. All that being said, I waited in a lineup for two hours to ride on an imaginary broomstick to soar about Hogwarts. Now I understand that this book series not only changed the way people read and write, it inspired a whole world to be created. From what I understand this recreation is the closest thing you’ll get to the real Harry Potter experience. Now I’m saving up to head back to FL to see it once again (and it’s new elements) to experience it the right way.

Why Everyone Loves Sirius Black - When Sirius was being mentioned in conversations when people were first reading the series, I remember people spoke of him with such disdain. They’d roll their eyes and say he’s up to no good… then they’d finish The Prisoner of Azkaban and their perspectives changed. Of course, I never really asked why. Now after reading, what I’d call my favourite book in the series, I know why. His intentions and actions were always good. In an effort not to give too much away, I will say that he was one of my favourite characters in the entire series… besides Dobby.

Why People Were So Upset About J.K. Rowling’s Quote about Harry and Hermione - Back in February, Emma Watson interviewed J.K. Rowling about the series for Wonderland Magazine. In this interview, Rowling said some pretty shocking things about the series she wrote. The biggest shocker was when she said,

In some ways Hermione and Harry are a better fit, and I’ll tell you something very strange. When I wrote Hallows, I felt this quite strongly when I had Hermione and Harry together in the tent! I hadn’t told [Steven] Kloves that and when he wrote the script he felt exactly the same thing at exactly the same point.

Of course, some fans didn’t mind the idea of Harry and Hermione ending up together, but some were outraged. In a lot of ways Hermione and Ron ending up together was a surprise no one saw coming and it made both of them break down walls they’d put up. I can understand her comment, but to play the woulda, coulda, shoulda game so long after the series has concluded made people question their admiration and devotion to this cute and unpredictable couple.

Why People Became Quiet Whenever I Asked About Robert Pattinson’s role in the Movie - When the Twilight movies hit the screen and everyone become obsessed with the pale Robert Pattinson, people began to recognize him as the man that played Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter movies. I’d be a fool not to hear that he had a role in some of the Harry Potter movies, so I asked around (having only seen the first movie and an hour or so of the second movie) and every time I asked someone about who he was in the movie, they’d get really quiet Harry-Potter-Fansand say he was Cedric Diggory. From this reaction alone, I knew that something terrible must have happened to this character. But when I finally discovered his fate, I was broken up about it. Oh god, even writing about it now makes me teary eyed.

The Cult-Like Culture Dedicated to the Series – It didn’t take me long, probably by book four, to realize why this series has become so, so popular. Why people reread it yearly, why it has its own theme park and why J.K. Rowling has become a billionaire. Harry Potter fans are a dedicated fan base, they know the inner workings of this series. They know every nook and cranny about why the characters behave a certain way. Seventeen years ago I thought it was all hype, I thought with time it would die down and people would move on. Now having read the series, I understand why people are so passionate about these books. I get it. I really do. As someone who loves books in general, I love that these books allow people to have to use their imaginations. They even introduced reading to children/teens/adults who might not otherwise read at all. The series might have ended seven years ago, but I don’t think these books are going anywhere. I’m just glad that I can now be a part of the ongoing phenomenon that is Harry Potter.

A special thank you to Michele from Just A ‘Lil Lost and Kaley from Books Etc who were two of my biggest online supporters and were both a driving force in helping to finally get me to commit to this series. 

 

[Book Review] The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Here’s a tip to those heading on vacation this summer, pick up a copy of The ImageVacationers by Emma Straub to read while you’re on holiday. The cover and the title were enough to convince me that this would be the perfect book to kick off my 10 day holiday to Nova Scotia. While I’m fairly positive that the characters in this book would love a visit to the beautiful East Coast of Canada, their vacation took them to a very different location. A family of four (two parents, two grown children) from Manhattan, NY pack up and head to Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean Sea for two weeks. What they hope will be an escape from reality, turns into a vacation full of truth bombs.

Franny and Jim are celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, but both are carrying a deep, dark secret. Their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high 9781594631573Hschool, but hasn’t had many experiences to date and is determined to create some on this trip. Their son, Bobby, lives in Miami selling real estate and lives with his much older girlfriend that no one really likes. They’re also traveling with family friends who are biting their nails waiting to hear if they’ll be approved to adopt a child. So as you can see, they are with some physical and metaphorical baggage.

This book is literally the definition of a beach read. I know at this time of year, the term “beach read” gets tossed around a lot, but you really will want to read this fun, light read while sitting on the beach or while you vacation at your childhood home (case in point). In full disclosure, you will be left with some unanswered questions, but you’re going to be able to create your own conclusions as to what you think happens. It’s an enjoyable, quick read that will have you handing it off to one of your friends to read, hopefully with sand on the pages.

What are some of the books you plan on reading on the beach this summer? 

[Video] Document Your Life – June 2014

June 2014

This past month was filled with talented authors, reading in the park and a much needed vacation. I was so lucky to meet Emily Giffin, who’s as lovely as you think she would be, and Diana Gabaldon, whom was incredibly charming and very smart. Just getting the opportunity to meet two individuals who have both had a hand in creating some of the most loved books published in the last ten years, was thrilling. Luckily I played it cool and didn’t get too giddy.

Of course, June 21 was the first day of summer and every nice evening or weekend, I spent at the park. Most times I managed to stay out of the sun, but as I sit and type this post, my shoulders are beating red, because someone forgot to apply sunscreen today… oops. I just flew home to Nova Scotia on June 27th and debated to take any video of my voyage home, because it would only be a short snippets of NS. Needless to say, I took a lot of footage, because there’s been so much going on in this province in anticipation of Canada Day. Fireworks, food festivals, concerts and of course lots of visits with some of my favourite people. I’m so thankful I’ve still got six more days of vacation, so expect lots more of NS in my July video.

But before we jump the gun, here’s a look at my life in June,

*The concept of the Document Your Life videos was created by Lauren Hannah. Her story, videos and a description of the project can be found here.

** The song in this video is Shine by Benjamin Francis Leftwich http://www.benjaminfrancisleftwich.com

Where are YOU headed on vacation this summer? Share with me in the comments below.