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.
Obviously 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. Check. 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….
J.D. Salinger! 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 Salinger Year, 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.
Here’s a review from the Washington Post.
Here’s more information about Joanna Rakoff and the book.