Joanna Rakoff

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Suffern, NY, The United States
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March 2012


Joanna Rakoff's novel A Fortunate Age won the Goldberg Prize for Fiction, and was a New York Times Editors' Choice, an Elle and Booklist Best Book of 2009, and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller.

Her memoir, My Salinger Year, is a semifinalist in the 2014 GoodReads Choice Awards! You can vote for it here!

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Popular Answered Questions

Joanna Rakoff Hi Akshita,

I've waited a long time to answer this question, as I have perhaps too much to say on the subject. The short answer is: Yes! Of course! If…more
Hi Akshita,

I've waited a long time to answer this question, as I have perhaps too much to say on the subject. The short answer is: Yes! Of course! If it's what you want to do, more than anything else in the world, then you must do it. But I would add: The key, here, is to regard writing as a career. Which means that you must regard it as work. (And it is, indeed, rather hard work!)

All my best,
Joanna(less)
Joanna Rakoff Ami, hi! It's funny, you're the second person today to ask me this question! It's a very serious one for me, as the process of writing My Salinger…moreAmi, hi! It's funny, you're the second person today to ask me this question! It's a very serious one for me, as the process of writing My Salinger Year radically changed the way I think about memoir, the way I think about writing (and the way I write), and feelings about first-person narration. Before starting work on the book, I wasn't a huge reader of memoir. Back in the late 1990s--when memoir emerged as a dominant form of our time--I attempted to read a few of the big, best-selling memoirs that lined the windows of bookstores, and found myself enormously frustrated with the artifice necessitated by the form. As in, I'd be reading, thinking "Okay, this scene is set when the author is FOUR. All this dialogue is invented. Why didn't he/she just write a freaking novel?"But, also, the point of view in so many seemed so limited. And then I'd hurl the book across the room.

When I write fiction, or essays, or journalism, or even poetry, I'm writing to fill a void. Particularly with fiction, I'm writing the novel or story that I want to read. Or when I write an essay, it often comes out of a feeling that something, somehow, some crumb of my experience, some idea about the world, is missing from the cultural conversation. There's an urgency that fuels this work, and I know what I want from it, what to demand of myself.

But in 2011, when I sat down to write My Salinger Year, I realized I had no idea what I wanted from a memoir. Because I'd hardly read any, and I'd never felt a burning drive to write one. I faltered for a few months--taking notes, continuing work on my new novel--then realized (of course) that I needed to start reading. For nearly a year, I read memoir after memoir, and that frustration I'd felt a decade earlier, well, it was gone, this time around. So many of the memoirs I read were so fantastic, as rich and complicated as novels. Those earlier memoirs had struck me as limited in terms of their points of view--they were so much about the "I," the examination of the self, with the other characters serving only to further our understanding of the narrator--but the great memoirs of that reading binge were broad and social. My favorites--Claire Dederer's Poser, Carlene Bauer's Not That Kind of Girl--reminded me of 19th century fiction in the scope of their stories, their cultural engagement. I realized that the contemporary memoir is, in a way, a novel for a society that demands transparency. And I realized that I could write a memoir that read like a novel, by thinking of myself as a character. (And I did: As I wrote, I thought of myself as "Joanna," rather than "I.") There's a particular challenge to memoir: It's more like putting together a puzzle than designing a house. You have all the pieces and need to figure out what goes where. And I love puzzles.

Anyway, point is: I loved writing it. And I have two more potential memoirs in the works. One *may* be my next book (after the novel I'm finishing up). Though it deals with rather heavier material than My Salinger Year, so we'll see if I have the emotional reserves to tackle it!(less)
Average rating: 3.72 · 7,885 ratings · 1,080 reviews · 1 distinct workSimilar authors
My Salinger Year

3.73 avg rating — 7,734 ratings — published 2008 — 27 editions
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A Fortunate Age

3.07 avg rating — 1,115 ratings — published 2009 — 12 editions
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Joanna Rakoff is now friends with Christopher
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Joanna Rakoff answered Goodreads's question: Joanna Rakoff
This is such a hard question to answer! As a kid, I dreamed of traversing the worlds of A WRINKLE IN TIME, and would lie in my bed imagining myself as Meg, bravely engaging in adventures (even though I was a shy, fearful child, afraid of the dark,... See Full Answer
The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau
"Funny -- and for a book that centers around a big bag full of cocaine -- surprisingly sweet. Loved reading this. "
The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau
"Fast, funny, wild-ass ride. The Wonder Bread Summer will grip you from the first chapter, when hapless Allie finds herself in a compromising situation with her lech of a boss. Adventures abound that are both hilarious and poignant. You'll find you..." Read more of this review »
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The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau
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Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
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The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor
The Daylight Marriage
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Perfect Lives by Polly Samson
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Loved, loved, LOVED this gorgeous, perfectly observed, often hilarious, just-as-often heartbreaking collection of stories.
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“War is what happens when language fails.”
Margaret Atwood
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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
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This is typical Sarah Waters in that it is amazing: Complicated, beautifully realized characters. A plot that keeps clicking along, disallowing you from putting it down. And, most importantly: The social and political realities of her setting--decima ...more
More of Joanna's books…
“Writing makes you a writer,” he’d told me. “If you get up every morning and write, then you’re a writer. Publishing doesn’t make you a writer. That’s just commerce.”
Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year

“So we’re all doing a pretty good job not revealing our emotions, right? But if you can’t reveal your emotions, how do you go on? What do you do with them? Because, you see, I keep crying at odd moments.”
Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year

“I know, I said reflexively, but I didn't. I didn't want to be normal. I wanted to be extraordinary. I wanted to write novels and make films and speak ten languages and travel around the world.”
Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year

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“War is what happens when language fails.”
Margaret Atwood
tags: war




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