My Salinger Year

  • Review
By – November 4, 2014

Joan­na Rakoff’s mem­oir about her year work­ing at a New York lit­er­ary agency pro­vides won­der­ful and often­times humor­ous insight into the nit­ty-grit­ty of the 90s pub­lish­ing world. On the cusp of the technol­ogy age and the new mil­len­ni­um, Joan­na finds her­self in an office with type­writ­ers instead of com­put­ers, dim light­ing, no copy machine, and a boss set against moder­ni­ty who seems to have worked at The Agency forever.

As a recent col­lege grad­u­ate in her ear­ly twen­ties, Joan­na is cap­ti­vat­ed by the New York lit­er­ary scene. She wants to live like a writer, excit­ed by the idea of being a starv­ing artist on a tiny salary that even­tu­al­ly caus­es her to move into an apart­ment with­out heat or a sink. Her over­bear­ing and aloof boy­friend, Don, is also a writer and calls Joan­na bour­geois” for only hav­ing read cer­tain lit­er­ary clas­sics. Joan­na strug­gles with find­ing a bal­ance between achiev­ing her own lit­er­ary and career ambi­tions and spend­ing time with her boyfriend.

Part of Joanna’s job as an assis­tant at The Agency, whose most famous client is J.D. Salin­ger, is to answer Salinger’s fan mail accord­ing to her boss’s strict rules — even the let­ters that beg for empa­thy. Even­tu­al­ly Joan­na is asked to read man­u­scripts of prospec­tive clients, which excites her the most. She men­tors cowork­ers and comes to under­stand her boss’s moodi­ness and expectations.

Rakoff’s achieve­ments and strug­gles through­out the mem­oir, from the pres­sure to be suc­cess­ful at a first job to fig­ur­ing out if she wants to be with her boyfriend for the rest of her life, cre­ate and main­tain a beau­ti­ful narra­tive of new adult­hood. My Salinger Year is an enter­tain­ing sto­ry of a young woman fig­ur­ing out her future through work, love, and writ­ing in New York.

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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