My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff: Book Review

Nonfiction November

This post is part of Nonfiction November hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, Becca at I’m Lost in Books, and Leslie at Regular Rumination.

Nonfiction – MemoirMy Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff, memoirs, J.D. Salinger
Released June, 2014

274 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary of My Salinger Year:

The story of Rakoff’s experience as a young woman in the 90’s living in NYC and working at the literary agency representing reclusive legend, J.D. Salinger. 

My Thoughts on My Salinger Year:

Though the title mentions Salinger, he is not the main focus of My Salinger Year. Sure, he makes appearances, but this is more of a coming of age story about a young girl trying to make it in NYC and a company trying to adjust to the modern world. You do not have to be a Salinger fan to enjoy this book. I was pleasantly surprised by this and ended up loving this book…enough to push it onto my upcoming Best Books of 2014 List and my Holiday Gift Guide!

At first, I kept thinking Rakoff was living in the 1950’s rather than the 1990’s. The smoking in the office, the typewriters (and accompanying lack of computers), and the huge Dictaphone contraptions all confounded me until I read this quote from Joanna’s friend, Jenny…

But really the Agency is like something out of Dickens. You step inside, and it’s like you’ve time traveled back a hundred years.

Then, I realized I was supposed to have been Jedi mind tricked into thinking I was watching an episode of “Mad Men”! However, this element was the source of a lot of the story’s humor and eccentricity.

What really made me love My Salinger Year was Rakoff’s tone and writing style (hence the number of quotes in this review!). She writes with humor, irony, and an appreciation for the ridiculous.

On her increasingly irrelevant boss:

My boss, as far as I knew, had no children, and she – like a certain breed of adult – appeared to have never been a child herself, but rather to have materialized on earth fully formed, in a taupe-hued pantsuit, cigarette in hand.

I especially loved her commentary on Don, her Communist boyfriend who tries so hard to be “authentic” that he ends up just being ridiculous.

He surrounded himself with fools – the broken, the failed or failing, the sad and confused – so that he might be their king. Which, obviously, made him nothing but the king of fools.


Don had refused to come home with me for my grandmother’s birthday, citing his opposition to the tradition, but – here again – I suspected that this alleged ideological stance might be simply a smoke screen for either poverty or cheapness, that he didn’t want to spend the money on a bus ticket, not to mention a gift for my grandmother.

Though I’m not a devoted Salinger fan and the only thing of his that I’ve read is The Catcher in the Rye (and I’ve only read that once…in high school), I did enjoy his eccentricity and found the humor in all the intricate rules that surrounded the Agency’s “handling” of him. I also enjoyed learning some of the history behind his writing and am now more likely to reread The Catcher in the Rye at some point.

Rakoff’s writing and the coming-of-age element to her story made this one of my favorite books of the year and my favorite memoir of the year. 

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  1. Cynthia wrote:

    I don’t read as much nonfiction as fiction. I am kind of picky about what I read in that genre. This book looks good though.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  2. I need to read The Catcher in the Rye, maybe over Thanksgiving weekend–my eldest just started it in English class, and I usually try to read/re-read my kids’ assigned reading so I can be helpful if they need it. Somehow I never read it in high school! I am probably the world’s only book blogger who has never read it . . . Anyway, maybe I’ll pick My Salinger Year about I read Catcher. If, you know , I can get through my list of 2014 novels!!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  3. My favorite memoir of the year as well!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  4. I enjoyed this too, perhaps particularly because Rakoff was describing the era just after my own college years. And I also want to read Salinger again! It’s been almost that long since I did.

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  5. bookmammal wrote:

    I also really enjoyed this book–I borrowed it from the library but it’s one of those titles that I want to own. I’ll be adding it to my bookshelves as soon as it’s out in paperback!

    Posted 11.20.14 Reply
  6. Susan wrote:

    I’m halfway through My Salinger Year, and I’m loving it! (In fact I found out about the book from this blog.)

    Joanna Rakoff writes in such a personal intimate way, even though I’m from a different place and era, I can relate to her story very strongly. Apparently she is working on another memoir, and a second novel, so I’ll look out for those too.

    Posted 6.12.15 Reply

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