I have a
new definition of luxury—beyond my fantasies of all-you-can-eat lobster and
all-you-can-drink Champagne—and that is to read a book that feels as though it
was essentially and EXACTLY
written for you. Your tastes, your life,
your interests: it’s as if the author
had a checklist and spent years writing this book just for YOU.
this is not what author Joanna Rakoff did with her new memoir, My Salinger Year.
But that is how I felt as I flew through the
book in the twenty-four hours after getting it in my hands. The subject matter alone proves my point:
First person, young girl, coming of age.
I love plenty of other points-of-view and point-of-view characters,
but a luxury book by this new definition I’ve invented would have to be first
person coming of age, told by a young girl, preferably a young girl looking
back, preferably looking back on events that happened in…
New York City. Check.
The book is set in late 90s New York and the author is involved in….
Something bookish. Check.
The author works for an esteemed literary
agency, that “glamorous” first job out of school, similar to my “glamorous”
foray in the NYC publishing business when I was an editorial assistant at The Hudson Review
back in the olden
days. The author’s work involves….
! Check and check!! It’s not that I exclusively read books about
(or by) Salinger, haha, but he was my literary idol growing up and is still an
author whose works I admire immensely. The
Catcher in the Rye
is easily in my top five favorite books list. In My
, Rakoff finds herself working for J.D. Salinger’s literary
agent! She, however, has never read his
work (which is probably a good thing at this point, as she is strictly warned
about turning fangirl if Salinger calls or comes to the office). She is put in charge of sending a typed (NOT Xeroxed!)
form letter to each of the many, many pieces of fan mail Salinger receives, and
through those letters—and her interactions—with the man himself—she eventually
does read the work, and writes beautifully here about that experience.
All this, and the book is well-organized, well-written,
smart, funny, and even (something Salinger would appreciate) well-designed on
the page. While this memoir may not meet
your exact checklist of “perfect book” as it did mine, I recommend it to anyone
who has ever felt world-weary of phonies or who wants a peek behind the scenes
of a literary agency (albeit a rather old-fashioned model of a literary agency). Or, frankly,
anyone who enjoys a great book about youthful salad days and the challenges of learning
to navigate the larger world.