My Salinger Year

Paperback | May 12, 2015

byJoanna Rakoff

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Keenly observed and irresistibly funny, My Salinger Year is a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing.

After leaving graduate school to pursue her dream of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. Precariously balanced between poverty and glamour, she spends her days in a plush, wood-paneled office—where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and agents doze after three-martini lunches—and then goes home to her threadbare Brooklyn apartment and her socialist boyfriend. Rakoff is tasked with processing Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, but as she reads the heart-wrenching letters from around the world, she becomes reluctant to send the agency’s form response and impulsively begins writing back. The results are both humorous and moving, as Rakoff, while acting as the great writer’s voice, begins to discover her own.

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From the Publisher

Keenly observed and irresistibly funny, My Salinger Year is a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing.After leaving graduate school to pursue her dream of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. Precariously balan...

Joanna Rakoff’s novel A Fortunate Age won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers and the Elle Readers’ Prize, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle best seller. She has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, and other publications. She lives in Cambridge, Massac...

other books by Joanna Rakoff

Le Plus Bel Age
Le Plus Bel Age

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Mijn jaar met Salinger
Mijn jaar met Salinger

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A Fortunate Age: A Novel
A Fortunate Age: A Novel

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see all books by Joanna Rakoff
Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 7.98 × 5.15 × 0.61 inPublished:May 12, 2015Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:030794798X

ISBN - 13:9780307947987

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Customer Reviews of My Salinger Year

Extra Content

Read from the Book

How many times had I been told that Salinger would not call, would never call, that I would have no contact with him? More than I could count.   And yet one morning, a Friday, at the beginning of April, I picked up the phone and heard someone shouting at me. “HELLO? HELLO?” Then something incomprehensible. “HELLO? HELLO?” More gibberish. Slowly, as in a dream, the gibberish resolved into language. “It’s Jerry,” the caller was shouting. Oh my God, I thought. It’s him. I began, slightly, to quiver with fear, not because I was talking to—or being shouted at by—the actual J. D. Salinger, but because I so feared doing something wrong and incurring my boss’s wrath. My mind began to sift through all the Salinger-related instructions that had been imparted to me, but they had more to do with keeping others away from him, less to do with the man himself. There was no risk of my asking him to read my stories or gushing about The Catcher in the Rye. I still hadn’t read it. “WHO IS THIS?” he asked, though it took me a few tries to understand. “It’s Joanna,” I told him, nine or ten times, yelling at the top of my lungs by the final three. “I’m the new assistant.”   “Well, nice to meet you, Suzanne,” he said, finally, in something akin to a normal voice. “I’m calling to speak to your boss.” I had assumed as much. Why had Pam put him through to me, rather than taking a message? My boss was out for the day, it being Friday, her reading day.   I conveyed this to him, or hoped that I did. “I can call her at home and have her call you back today. Or she can give you a call when she gets in on Monday.”   “Monday is fine,” he said, his voice ratcheted down another notch. “Well, very nice to meet you, Suzanne. I hope we meet in person someday.”   “Me, too,” I said. “Have a great day.” This was not a phrase I ever used. Where had it come from?   “YOU, TOO!” Ah, the shouting.   I put the phone down and took a deep breath, as I’d learned to do in ballet. My entire body, I realized, was shaking. I stood up and stretched.   “Jerry?” asked Hugh, stepping out of his office with a mug of coffee.   “Yes!” I said. “Wow.”   “He’s deaf. His wife set up this special phone for him, with an amplified receiver, but he refuses to use it.” He sighed his trademark sigh. To be Hugh was to be let down by the world. “What did he want?”   “Just to talk to my boss.” I shrugged. “I offered to call her at home and have her call him back, but he said Monday was fine.”   Hugh wrinkled his face in thought. “Hmm, why don’t you call her anyway. I think she’d want to know.”   “Okay,” I said, thumbing through my Rolodex.   She wasn’t home and had no answering machine. She didn’t believe in them. Just as she didn’t believe in computers or voice mail, another newfangled invention not employed by the Agency. If you called during business hours, you reached Pam, the receptionist. If you called outside business hours, the phone just rang and rang, as it did at my boss’s apartment, twenty blocks north of the office. I tried again, every hour or so, until the end of the day, to no avail. It would have to be Monday.

Bookclub Guide

US 1.  In what ways does Joanna Rakoff’s position at the Agency seem typical of many young people’s first post-college jobs? Has it gotten harder or easier for young people to start a meaningful career since then?   2.  How much did Rakoff’s experience at the Agency match what she had imagined ahead of time about the glamorous world of publishing? Was her disillusionment inevitable?   3.  When the book begins, Rakoff has just left her college boyfriend, even though it’s clear she’s still in love with him. She says she doesn’t understand why she did this. Is there anything in her behavior or situation that might shed light on her motives? 4.  Rakoff’s boyfriend, Don, is a rather unpleasant character. Why does she stay with him as long as she does? Is there something universal about her experience with Don? 5.  Rakoff never names the firm for which she works—calling it “the Agency”—nor does she name her boss or her college boyfriend. Why do you think she made this choice? Does it matter that she’s concealed the names? Would the memoir have more impact if the names were revealed?  6.  Midway through the book, Rakoff’s father presents her with a stack of bills, revealing that he had taken out student loans in her name without her knowledge, forging her signature on the applications. He tells her the payments are her responsibility now, even though he knows she doesn’t make enough to cover them. Was this a good way to encourage financial responsibility? Should she have protested her father’s actions more strongly? 7.  Part of the book’s plot line revolves around Rakoff and her closest friend, Jenny, growing apart. Jenny has chosen a more conservative path in life; Rakoff, a more bohemian one. Is growing apart from one’s childhood friends a universal part of growing up?  8.  When Rakoff is asked to read Judy Blume’s new novel for adults, she recalls the important role Blume’s children’s books had played in her life as a young book lover. By contrast, she had never read J. D. Salinger before. Do you think Blume has the same sort of significant place in many young women’s hearts as Salinger does for many young men? 9.  The Agency is almost a character in the book itself. How would you describe its personality? How important are the particular quirks of the place and of her boss to Rakoff’s development during this year? 10.  Rakoff’s memoir is set at the dawn of digital technology. How does her employer’s resistance to using computers and insistence on using outdated Selectric typewriters and Dictaphones contribute to the strangeness of Rakoff’s experience working there?  How differently might this story have played out if it had occurred a decade later, when email and the internet were more inescapable? 11.  A turning point in the story comes when Rakoff decides to disregard her boss’s instructions to send out a form letter on Salinger’s behalf, and begins answering fans’ letters instead. Was this courageous or recklessly irresponsible? Why do you think she did it? What effect does it have on her? 12.  What do the letters that Rakoff writes to Salinger’s adoring fans show us about her?  To what extent is she writing them for herself? 13.  J. D. Salinger was famously reclusive. What did you know about him before reading this book, and did any of his cameo appearances in the book change your image of him?   14.  What sort of influence does Rakoff’s boyfriend have on her during this period of her life? What relationship do his literary ambitions have to her own? To what extent is finding her voice connected with breaking away from him?  15.  What does it mean to Rakoff when Salinger dies? After reading the memoir, how would you explain her decision to entitle it My Salinger Year? 

Editorial Reviews

“A beautifully written tribute to the way things were at the edge of the digital revolution, and to the evergreen power of literature.” —Chicago Tribune“An affecting coming-of-age memoir. . . . Rakoff wisely—and deftly—weaves her Salinger story into a broader, more universal tale about finding one’s bearings during a pivotal transitional year into real adulthood.” —The Washington Post“Charming. . . . Glamorous. . . . Rakoff does a marvelous job of capturing a cultural moment. . . . What is most admirable is [her] critical intelligence and generosity of spirit.” —The Boston Globe“The loneliness of life after college [is] perfectly explained . . . There’s something Salingeresque about her book: it’s a vivid story of innocence lost.” —Entertainment Weekly“My Salinger Year describes its author’s trip down a metaphorical rabbit hole back in 1996. She arrived not in Wonderland, but a place something like it, a New York City firm she calls only the Agency. . . . An outright tribute to the enduring power of J.D. Salinger’s work.” —Salon  “A breezy memoir of being a ‘bright young assistant’ in the mid-1990s . . . Salinger himself makes a cameo appearance. . . . The ‘archaic charms’ of the Agency are comically offset by its refusal to acknowledge the Internet age.” —The New York Times Book Review“While it may be the Salinger cameo that initially draws readers in, it’s Rakoff’s effortlessly elegant, unhyperbolic prose and poignant coming-of-age story that will keep them engrossed through the very last word.” —BookPage    “Moving. . . . Heartfelt. . . . Rakoff uses Salinger—his fan mail and her favorite character, Franny—to help illuminate her inner life. . . . The memoir is touching, and it’s easy to empathize with how Rakoff, like Franny, is ‘trying to figure out how to live in this world.’”  —USA Today “Gentle, funny, closely observed. . . . The special unworldliness of the young literary person, who has reached adulthood without ever knowing or caring much about how the world works, is the real subject of My Salinger Year.” —Tablet Magazine  “Gripping and funny. . . . An involving, evocative tale that will have bookish women everywhere shuddering in recognition. Like Rona Jaffe’s novel of the 50s, The Best of Everything, it is concerned with what it feels like to move to the big city, to take on your first job, and to struggle to survive on a tiny salary when all the while your dreams are seemingly being snuffed out at every turn, and your love life is spiraling into muddle and mayhem. . . . So raw and so true.” —The Guardian “Hard to put down. . . . Demands sympathy, admiration, and attention. . . . Irresistible.” —The Sunday Times  “Intimate . . . elegant . . . graceful.” —The Sunday Telegraph “As memoirs go, this is possibly one of the year’s funniest, enthralling and entertaining . . . For an insight into old-fashioned publishing this must be hard to beat. Everyone smokes, returns tiddly from boozy lunches, and authors are treated with respect. It knocks spots off The Devil Wears Prada.” —The Sydney Morning Herald “Lures you in. . . . A story about growing up and getting better in a rapidly changing industry and world.” —Flavorwire, “June 2014 Books You Must Read”