My Salinger Year – Joanna Rakoff

This book was recommended to me on New Years day by a friend who said it made her think of me. It’s not too difficult really to see why. This is an intimate look at the publishing world from the perspective of an assistant to a prestigious literary agent in 1990s New York.

The first thing to strike me about this was how envious I was/am of Joanna Rakoff. The way she tells it, she sort of landed in her position entirely by accident, sending her résumé to a recruitment firm who seem to instantly find her a role in one of the most well known literary agencies in the world. The ease with which she lands this job, compared to my own, now nearly year long, struggle, is quite painful, but I tell myself the 90s were a very different time.

I must admit, I haven’t read Salinger, nor do I have a great burning desire to do so now. You can read this very easily without having done so. Of course, there may be subtle references that are a bit lost on me as a result of my ignorance, but I think, if you’ve ever loved a book or an author’s collected works, you’ll get along fine here. It’s all about passion and about what a book can teach you about yourself; how it can inspire you to better or change yourself in some way, the name or status of the author is kind of irrelevant.

I’ve read that this is a humorous book but I didn’t really see it as such. Certainly there are light-hearted moments and the narrative as a whole is fairly easy going with few moments of great tension or darkness, but ultimately it is just a year in this woman’s life. In any life there are moments of humour and moments of sadness and this reflects all of these occasions in equal measure. It’s a memoir; it’s a simple as that.

It is beautifully written, it has to be said. It’s quite peaceful and calming when it wants to be, and you find yourself becoming really quite attached to the characters, bar the ones you really aren’t supposed to grow attached to, through Rakoff’s depiction of them. The friends all sort of blur into one but then I think they’re meant to, a comment on the fast paced and flighty nature of New York living, but the colleagues and clients remain. These characters are all in some way flawed, but are all dedicated to what they do, though, as Rakoff notes, there is some difference in the workings of those dedicated to the books and those dedicated to the work of a literary agent itself.

As with pretty much everything I read about publishing, it makes me jealous over anything else and so I can’t really say that I read it with ‘fresh’ eyes.

At the end of the day though, I enjoyed it. It’s an interesting and thoughtful account of a year in a woman’s life and how it changed her and whether you’re a Salinger fan or not, it’s worth a read.

Currently reading:
Book: The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry & The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
Audio: End of Watch, by Stephen King

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