MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Smith Rakoff

salingerI am a sucker for whiny stories of how hard recent college grads in the fine arts have it and have to work as receptionists or secretaries or ‘assistants’ and live in god-awful tiny apartments in Manhattan or Brooklyn and have NO MONEY.   Yeah.  Welcome to the real world.

Anyway, this is another of that type, and is not fiction, but a sort of memoir. The author has a masters from University College in England, and lands a job not waitressing or bartending, or as a barista, but as an assistant to a Literary Agent.  This was in 1996. Very different literary climate in those days, and in fact, all was on the cusp of changing even then.

Her agency had no computers, they only used typewriters, and quite a number of other anachronisms.  She works for the boss lady who is old school and represents such luminaries as Salinger and Judy Blume.  Salinger is a recluse, is deaf, and hasn’t written anything in years and years, refuses to accept fan mail, leaving it all to the agency to deal with by sending out a cold form letter advising that the author does not want fan mail sent to him.

This is the background for her life with a strange, Socialist young man for whom she had abandoned her boyfriend when he went to L.A. for a job.  It is the story of how she grows up.  Like the time she visits her parents in their well to-do home outside of the city, to be given the bills for her credit cards and her student loan payments and told they were now hers, since she had a job.  She is stunned – as most young people are when they find out that mummy and daddy aren’t going to support them forever so that they can spend their salaries on expensive coffee concoctions and $20 drinks at fancy clubs.

She and the socialist end up in a tiny apartment that turns out not to have a kitchen sink.  Well, it doesn’t have much of a kitchen, either, and no heat.  So they heat the place with the kitchen oven.  It’s the kind of life only a young person can live with aplomb, looking down on any of their contemporaries who cave by moving to midwestern cities where the salaries are higher and the rents so much cheaper.

The agency world revolves around Salinger, their biggest star client, and is a running commentary on what star power can do for a person.

I really liked the book.  It was an easy read, because it did not have that memoir feel to it;  it read more like fiction.  Just well done, and something that caught my fancy.

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One comment on “MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Smith Rakoff

  1. Deb Atwood says:

    Oh, I want to read this one! Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

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