READ: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

This book surprised me, in a good way.

I expected an ode to Salinger, but to be honest, I’m not that into The Catcher in the Rye, so I thought this book might annoy me. I picked it up anyway because I liked the cover (Salinger would have been very disappointed because he thought covers should be plain. Covers are really important – I judge books by them all the time). Instead of the paean I predicted, this book turned out to be a fun memoir about a pivotal year for Joanna Rakoff in New York City.

Rakoff started working in the real world in 1996, like I did, just as the internet changed EVERYTHING about working in a office. All of a sudden, co-workers wrote an email instead of walking next door for a conversation about a project. So much information at the tip of our fingertips, in an instant. However, the literary agency where Rakoff has her first job takes pride in the fact that they use typewriters and dictaphones. They don’t want to change. They smoke and drink in the office (they did where I worked in 1996 too!). They are a last remnant of a dying system. Rakoff expects offices to be glamorous places, instead she gets a crash course on the dullness of them. Even the New Yorker is in a boring building.

Perhaps the agency remained a relic of the olden days because their biggest client was the man, the myth, the legend – JD (Jerry) Salinger. As a newbie at the agency, Rakoff discovers what working with Salinger can be like. For instance, he has exact details on how he wants his books to be printed. The title must be horizontal on the spine, not vertical…Interestingly, she has not really read Salinger, and when she decides to read all of his work, it happens on a weekend when she faces many crossroads in her life – at a time when she is learning to trust her judgement in life and in her literary analysis.

Of course, we all know that Salinger was a hermit. In this day and age, authors have a hard time going into seclusion like Salinger did. They need to market their books, and so they have blogs, facebook pages, a twitter account,  a full schedule of readings and conventions, etc. We often feel like we know the author, sometimes before we read their books. Most of my favorite authors, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Gilbert, etc. are all over social media. Salinger kept his private life, private, for his entire life. Quite the feat. This memoir makes you think about why he may have chosen to keep himself exiled.

Another great feature of this memoir is that it is a love story to New York. It opens with a magical winter snowstorm that shuts down the city. Rooftop parties, dark bars, cold weather, Central Park, exorbitant rent, shady neighborhoods, and long rides on the subway all illustrate the NYC experience.

Just read both of these articles which popped up this week when I finished the book:

Salinger’s house where he lived in his self-imposed seclusion is for sale. Check it out here.

Also, Dani Shapiro wrote a great, short essay last week in the New Yorker about memoir and social media. Read it here.

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A few days ago I parked my car at work and finished listening to Cutting for Stone – when it ended I sat in stunned silence and cried. The story took me on an amazing adventure. I am madly in love with this book. Ghosh and Hema are two of my favorite characters that I have ever encountered. Verghese takes the time to introduce the characters, and as a reader you may feel like it takes a long time. It is worth it. The medical and historical details are riveting. I loved this book.

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Last week I escaped into the final installment of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life. A super fun read that continues the saga of Dianna and Matthew and a host of witches, daemons, and vampires who live among us. Among all of the supernatural elements, issues about genetics and disease and racism are explored. The whole trilogy was so much fun.

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