Poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny: a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself entangled with one of the last great figures of the century.
At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in a plush, wood-paneled office, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches. At night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic instinct, Rakoff is tasked with answering Salinger's voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the candid, heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to type out the agency's decades-old form response. Instead, drawn inexorably into the emotional world of Salinger's devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger's, on her own dangerous and liberating terms.
Rakoff paints a vibrant portrait of a bright, hungry young woman navigating a heady and longed-for world, trying to square romantic aspirations with burgeoning self-awareness, the idea of a life with life itself. Charming and deeply moving, filled with electrifying glimpses of an American literary icon, "My Salinger Year" is the coming-of-age story of a talented writer. Above all, it is a testament to the universal power of books to shape our lives and awaken our true selves.
Advance Praise for My Salinger Year
“This is an impossibly excellent read—a glowingly entertaining, miss-your-subway-stop engrossing, note-perfect piece of storytelling. Joanna Smith Rakoff’s My Salinger Year is ostensibly about finding your way as a young adult and what it really means to be on your own for the first time; but it’s really about Manhattan at the brink of the internet age, the disappointments of love, the joys of reading, the perils of ambition, phonies (of course it’s about phonies!), what books meant to our culture in the twentieth century and what they continue to mean in the new one. Really now, who doesn't want to find out what it’s like to have cranky old Jerry Salinger screaming at you first thing, before you’ve even had your morning coffee?”
—Charles Bock, author of Beautiful Children
“Joanna Rakoff is the literary world’s Lena Dunham, both of them witty, sensitive, elegantly baffled, zeitgeist-hitting Brooklyn ladies of their respective half-generations. We root for Joanna as she painstakingly juggles the Dictaphone and Selectric of her enigmatic chain-smoking female boss, in a city that has banned nicotine and switched to computers; as she deals with her lovable, impetuous, gym-rat Socialist boyfriend in the still-Wild West of Williamsburg; and as she finds herself in the worshipping world of ‘Jerry,’ the stodgy agency’s venerated star-client and reason for being. Joanna discovers herself the just-pre-“start-up”-world way: by worrying and feeling and writing and struggling. Make no mistake: Joanna's memoir is about her, not J.D. Salinger. And we're the richer for it.”
—Sheila Weller, author of Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and the Journey of a Generation
“Here is the story of a reader becoming a writer, of a young woman deciding who she will be, of the power of books. Here is a memoir that manages to be dreamlike but sharp, poignant but unsentimental. Here is a book I’m going to have to insist you read immediately.”
—Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements
“Every young person who moves to New York with creative ambitions should read Joanna Rakoff’s wonderful memoir of being young and literary in the late 1990s. Navigating her first ‘real’ job—which happens to be at a storied literary agency—a live-in boyfriend who doesn’t invite her to his best friend’s wedding and an apartment without a kitchen sink, Rakoff finds joy in reading and writing and in the city itself, which comes alive in her hands, from rooftop parties downtown to the Plaza Hotel to arty coffee shops in not-yet-gentrified parts of Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the story Rakoff tells of that one all-important year is as transporting as the best novels and is full of insight into work, love and the pursuit of an artistic life.”
—Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
“I fell in love with My Salinger Year like the young Joanna Rakoff falls in love with the books in it—deeply, with abandon, letting the world fall away. For anyone who worked in a pre-Google office in New York City, this book is a gift of memory, a Dictaphone transcription from a forgotten age. But anyone who loves fiction, and people, and youth, and love, will fall in love with it, too—and with Joanna's sensuous longing for belonging, the lovely and curious kind of coming of age we all would like to remember for ourselves.”
—Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints
“This is a vibrant coming-of-age memoir that moves along with momentum and energy, and one only wishes Rakoff had spent more than one year with Salinger so we’d have an even fuller portrait of a man who was and is often misunderstood.”