My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

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My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A brilliant memoir about Rakoff's year spent at the literary agency which handled J D Salinger. The writing is brilliant and the book is compulsive reading. You have to read it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
ISBN: 978-1408830178

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Joanna Rakoff was twenty three when she took a job as assistant to a literary agent in New York. She'd not long left graduate school (and her 'college boyfriend') and her dream was to become a poet. The job was for experience and for income - her parents were somewhat dismissive of the position, pointing out that it was what used to be called a secretary - but there was a bonus which Rakoff had not anticipated, or even appreciated when she first heard of it. The agency might be stuck in the past - with Dictaphones and typewriters rather than computers - but its main client was J D Salinger. Rakoff knew the name - obviously - but she had never read one of his books.

Salinger no longer wrote and the agency's main function was as guardian of his privacy. Any mail which was sent to his publisher was forwarded to them and they were instructed to write back to the sender saying that Salinger did not wish to receive any letters. The agency had developed a stock letter to be sent out, but Rakoff could not resist the temptation to personalise her responses, to soften the blow or even to offer advice. Whether or not this was wise is something which occasionally troubled her. She was warned that she shouldn't expect any sort of interaction with Salinger but through phone calls initiated by Salinger and mangled by his hearing problems he comes to know her as 'Susanna'.

There's an elegant contrast between life at work - the equipment might be stuck in the dark ages but the office is plush and wood panelled - and the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Don, the successor to the college boyfriend. The property is threadbare and missing many of the essentials - a description which also serves for the relationship with Don. Her life is precarious, with money problems to the fore - her father passed her the credit card bills for her college education. He'd been paying the interest but thought that it was up to her to take them over now - and she suddenly found herself many thousands of dollars in debt.

I was surprised by quite how readable this book is - in fact I'd describe it as compulsive. I was expecting it to be interesting and informative but discovered that I was completely drawn into Rakoff's life. Whilst she was writing to Salinger's fans I was mentally phrasing the letter telling her exactly what I thought of Don and that I really couldn't understand why she stayed with him. There's a self-deprecating humour running through the book and a sense that Rakoff is on the cusp - a girl becoming a woman, a dependant making her way in the big city and a reader turning into a poet, an author. It is quite superb and it's a keeper - the sort of book which you go back to again and again.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Here and Now: Letters by J M Coetzee and Paul Auster and Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe.

Buy My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff at

Buy My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff at

Booklists.jpg My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff is in the Top Ten Autobiographies 2014.


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