Julie Christine's Reviews > My Salinger Year

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
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it was amazing
bookshelves: bio-autobio-memoir, read-2014, best-of-2014

If I had a category for Most Charming Read of the Year, there would be one entrant for 2014: My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff’s blithe memoir of her tenure at the Agency, the arch moniker she gives to Harold Ober Associates—one of Manhattan’s most venerable literary agencies.

I know, I know: the year still has many months and reads ahead, but I’m calling this one right now. My Salinger Year shimmers with Wilt Stillman Bright Young Things, and it's imbued with a Woody Allenesque-patina that warms the city’s brownstones until they glow with autumn light or sparkle with the diamonds of freshly-fallen snow.

The year is 1996 and Rakoff, fresh from completing a Master’s degree in English in the U.K., needs a job. She really doesn’t need a boyfriend, but she finds lover and employment in quick succession. The latter becomes her entrée into the New York literary scene. The former, a struggling novelist, informs her emotional and artistic development, and breaks her heart more times than he's worth. Which is, as it happens, not much.

Although the coming revolution of digital publishing and e-readers is a mere ten years away, the Agency doesn’t possess a single computer and has only recently acquired a photocopier. Rakoff, hired as an assistant to the Agency’s president—to whom she refers only as “my boss”—types dictation on an IBM Selectric, Dictaphone headphones planted on her head, her feet working the Dictaphone pedals beneath the desk. Correspondence is done via the postal service. There are telephones of course, but no one has voicemail. If anyone calls after hours, the office phones simply ring and ring, echoing down the dimly lit hallways lined with plush carpet.

Enter Jerry, the Agency's most celebrated client. And if the Agency's president doesn't step up her game, he might be the last client standing. Delivering a breathless scene with a comic's sense of timing, Rakoff meets another famous client, Judy Blume. Just the one time. Judy, along with a steady stream of other writers, quits the Agency to seek representation where the 21st century is acknowledged as a done deal.

Jerry is, of course, J.D. Salinger. A writer whom Joanna Rakoff, budding writer herself, has never read. Jerry, hard of hearing, reclusive, and endearing, has expressed interest in having his long short story, Hapworth 16, 1924—which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1965— published as a novel by a tiny press in Virginia. For eight months, Rakoff resists reading Salinger, certain his lionized status is hyperbole and his writing trite. But she becomes immediately fascinated by the enormous volume of fan mail the author continues to receive, thirty years after his last publication. It is her job to inform each correspondent that the Agency, per Mr. Salinger's directions, cannot forward the letter to the author or respond to any requests. When she finally does read Salinger, it is in a revelatory binge. That weekend of Salinger sets the tone for the brief time that she remains at the Agency, but it also leads her to finding her writing voice.

The interactions with J.D. Salinger and the near-farcical subplot of the reissue of Hapworth ground the story in the disappearing age of traditional publishing, when a few elite readers determined what the rest of us would be checking out from our public libraries, or purchasing from the rapidly-vanishing independent bookstores, or once-were-giants Borders and Barnes & Noble.

But at its tender heart, My Salinger Year is the coming of age tale of a young woman and writer and an ode to being young and sort-of single in New York, living in an unheated apartment in Williamsburg and taking the subway to Madison Avenue to talk in plummy, tweedy tones with other underpaid literati. It is a gloriously, unabashedly nostalgic memoir and yes, utterly charming. Rakoff's writing is breezy and self-effacing, completely in character with the twenty-three-year-old woman who recounts this seminal year. Only an accomplished and confident writer could manage to sustain that tone with authenticity. Joanna Rakoff enchants readers with an elegant memoir that reads like a curl-up-with-a-cuppa novel. She's just won a new admirer.

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Reading Progress

June 3, 2014 – Shelved
June 3, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
August 18, 2014 – Started Reading
August 18, 2014 – Shelved as: bio-autobio-memoir
August 18, 2014 –
page 50
19.84% "People. This is going to be good. Joanna's voice is MARVELOUS!"
August 20, 2014 –
page 143
56.75% "Oh! So good. Going onto the list of memoirs to study - the narrative flows like a novel. Pitch perfect."
August 21, 2014 – Shelved as: best-of-2014
August 21, 2014 – Shelved as: read-2014
August 21, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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Julie Christine I feel liking hugging everyone. I just loved this. Review to come. Sweet read to reach the years's reading challenge, for it's all about a love of reading and writing. And love.


message 2: by Maureen (new)

Maureen Brillant review. TThis really should be in the New York Times!


Julie Christine Maureen wrote: "Brillant review. TThis really should be in the New York Times!" Oh, thank you, my friend!!


message 4: by Margitte (last edited Aug 29, 2014 09:34AM) (new)

Margitte My goodness, you just convinced me to become an admirer too! What a fascinating, wonderful review, Julie! OnE of those reviews that keeps me pondering about the book and the reviewer for a long time.


message 5: by Julie Christine (last edited Sep 14, 2014 07:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julie Christine Margitte, this was delightful! I hope you enjoy. And thank you for the sweet comments!


message 6: by Arnie (new)

Arnie I just got around to this fantastic review which certainly would not be out of place in The Times' Book Review section. Count me as one of your admirers.


Julie Christine Arnie wrote: "I just got around to this fantastic review which certainly would not be out of place in The Times' Book Review section. Count me as one of your admirers."
Oh Arnie, how wonderful are you? Thank you so much!


message 8: by Michael (new)

Michael You charm me well. Much appreciated.


Julie Christine Michael wrote: "You charm me well. Much appreciated."
:) Thank you, Michael!


message 10: by Prakash (new) - added it

S Prakash Dont know if Joanna has enchanted all of her readers, as I myself am yet to read. But, if she had read your review, for sure she would be enchanted with such a fine compliment.


Julie Christine Prakash wrote: "Dont know if Joanna has enchanted all of her readers, as I myself am yet to read. But, if she had read your review, for sure she would be enchanted with such a fine compliment."
Aww, Prakash- thank you! I hope you do have a chance to read this lovely memoir!


Andrew Smith Nice review, Julie. I enjoyed this book too.


Julie Christine Andrew wrote: "Nice review, Julie. I enjoyed this book too." Andrew, thank you!


message 14: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Lovely review: I would have tried for the same if I could have mustered the words.


Julie Christine Matt wrote: "Lovely review: I would have tried for the same if I could have mustered the words."

What a beautiful thing to say. Thank you, Matt.


Lorna Oh Julie, I too loved this book; such a beautiful and loving review. I'm smiling just thinking about it. Thank you!


Julie Christine Lorna wrote: "Oh Julie, I too loved this book; such a beautiful and loving review. I'm smiling just thinking about it. Thank you!"

Lorna- thank you!!!


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