The cover of this book caught my eye immediately in the book shop and pretty much said it all. An orange sunburst umbrella making its way though the streets of New York. The colourful paperback was propped proudly on the New Releases shelf. Despite the fact I had only entered the book shop in order to bide some time, I bought it.
It wasn’t until I had taken it home that I realized that it was, in fact, a memoir – so expertly constructed so as to appear as a fictional novel, you would never have guessed. The book tells the 250 page story of Joanna Rakoff’s year of working for the Agency – a literary agency still half-caught in the 1950s, which happens to represent J. D. Salinger.
As an assistant to Salinger’s agent, she is given the task of replying to his fan mail – to which she is required to send back a generic response, but finds herself adding personal touches to those she finds deserving.
This book is a fascinating look into the lives behind the letters. It provides a rare glance of what goes on behind the publishing of a book, and also offers brief, thrilling glimpses into the life of one of world’s biggest literary icons. It is a coming of age story, of sorts, of Rakoff as a writer and how she discovers herself through working with some of the most talented of them.
My Salinger Year makes you want to rediscover Salinger all over again, previous fan or not. It is a memoir so deeply moving and gripping that you forget it is non-fiction altogether and find yourself eagerly awaiting an exciting conclusion. But most of all it is a book that makes you want to write – on yellowing paper on an old typewriter, with the bustling streets of New York below.
Words by Skye Mallac