While 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 crappy 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.