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, published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2018) and winner of the 2019 National Federation of Press Women Book Award. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals and anthologies, including Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, Lilith, Raleigh Review, Minerva Rising, Third Wednesday, and Saranac Review. Her essays and book reviews have been published in Green Mountains Review, the Forward, Literary Mama, and others. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She teaches high school English and lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.