Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Salinger Year

I am a huge fan of well written memoirs (reading at least a dozen per year in recent years), and when I find a good one written by a publishing insider, I feel as if I've hit the memoir jackpot.  

When I read Joanna Rakoff's My Salinger Year back in August, I wrote this review for use on a couple of websites.  Because I did not write the review specifically for Book Chase, it might be a little rough around the edges.  The sentiments expressed in the review, however, are sincere ones:

Joanna Rakoff was fortunate enough to experience the atmosphere of an old-school literary agency, one that managed to represent some of the most respected writers of the 20th century - and she did it just in the nick of time: 1996.

As recounted in her memoir "My Salinger Year," the agency and the agents were nothing like the author expected them to be. Instead of finding a high tech (well, as high as high tech was in '96, anyway), Rakoff walked into an office that still thrived on manual typewriters, carbon copies, dictaphones, and walking down the hall to speak with co-workers. These people thought that having a copy machine was too high tech to fool with and there was no way they wanted computers in the office. When they finally got a copy machine, the typists were overjoyed - but when they got one IBM computer for the entire office and were pretty much told to stay away from it, they were reminded where they worked and for whom.

Joanna Rakoff
Rakoff was 23 years old in 1996 when she found herself working for J.D. Salinger's agent, and her encounters with the man are both interesting and endearing (especially for fans of Salinger's work). She only met him one time, as I recall, but had numerous phone conversations with the hard-of-hearing Salinger during which he shouted into the phone at her.

Joanna Rakoff grew into her job. She was little more than a secretary (1950s-style) when she started at the agency but, by the time she left just a year later, she had sold a story on her own and identified a new client for the agency via a manuscript she plucked from the company slush pile. But, ultimately, Rakoff decided to move on with her life - one in which she finally shed an anvil of a boyfriend, married and had a couple of children, divorced, and finally joined the college boyfriend she pined for throughout the length of "My Salinger Year."

Avid readers will enjoy this insider's look at a New York literary agency as seen through the eyes of someone fresh from school. It is one of the better books-on-books of 2014.

And here's a bonus book trailer featuring author Joanna Rakoff in which her enthusiasm and excitement (almost twenty years after her "Salinger year") is still evident:

This one will appeal to a diverse group of readers, I think: memoir fans, fans of Salinger, fans of books about's a good one.


  1. I love a good memoir, especially one that involves books or writing! Life at a NYC literary agency sounds really interesting.

  2. Michelle, it describes life at one of the last "classic" literary agencies to exist, probably...a very old-school kind of world. I hope you enjoy it.