Book review – My Salinger Year

Looking for a quiet, contemplative read? My Salinger Year is a beautiful memoir to appeal to the reflective literature lover in us all.

What is My Salinger Year about?

My Salinger Year is a memoir written by Joanna Rakoff. It follows Rakoff, fresh from college as she makes her start in the literary world in the 1990s. Not as a writer, as she is now, but as the assistant to the literary agent representing the esteemed J.D Salinger.

Rakoff shares stories of her days in The Agency, detailing the many tasks of an assistant. Including responding to J.D Salinger’s daily mountains of fan mail.

As The Agency navigates the dawning of a new technological age, Joanna must come to terms with her own life challenges. Including the many colourful characters she interacts with.

What I liked about My Salinger Year?

Rakoff is a talented writer, and her book is filled with soothing yet emotive prose.

Neil Gaiman talks about the necessity of needing to write honestly. In reading this book, I felt the truth of this statement. Rakoff exposes the vunerablity, fear and excitement which often defines the season of life that is being a fresh graduate.

As well as providing a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the literary scene at this time, Rakoff shares snapshots of people, moments in time. The people she interacts with feel familiar, as if as a reader, we can all identify people like that in our own lives. It feels believable and mesmerising, like an echo of our own experiences.

The structure of My Salinger Year is satisfying, following the four seasons. This is a swift, comforting read that explores the power (and sometimes disappointment) in sharing a great love for books.

What I didn’t like about My Salinger Year?

Now, this may not win me any fans. But I’m actually not a fan of J.D Salinger. Sorry. Not sorry.

You may be asking then, why on earth would you pick up a book that centres itself on Salinger?

Good question. But I suppose I was hoping Rakoff would change my mind about J.D Salinger.

I read Catcher in The Rye in university. I found Holden Caulfield took the prize for the only character I truly ever hated. His pessimism and angst was upsetting to me, and overall I found the book dreary. I didn’t want to believe in a world filled with phony people.

In hindsight as I reflect, I realise my hatred for Holden and the strong emotive reaction he caused, is perhaps more of a reflection on my own state of mind at the time of reading it. I was in a difficult place, and he was not the character I wanted at that time…

But that’s another story for another day. Back to My Salinger Year.

Rakoff did change my mind. Her own, and many others passion for Salinger’s books made me wonder if I’d been too harsh on poor Holden. And while I personally didn’t relate to the passages lauding Salinger’s work — the emphasis on the impact of a book on people was not lost on me.

I think we can all think of an author, or a book that changed our lives or perspective in some way. That’s special, and that’s worth noticing and celebrating.

I think I might be due for a reread of Catcher in the Rye.

Who should read My Salinger Year?

If you’re a fan of Salinger, definitely read this book. It’s filled with references and the interaction’s Joanna has with “Jerry” Salinger will be sure to thrill you.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for a light non-fiction read. Or have a love for literature more broadly, this is one worth reading. It’s a lyrical coming of age story, with a rich emotional heart.

Content warning: drug use.

Where did I find this book?

This review wouldn’t be complete without a quick mention of where I came across this book.

On a recent trip to Adelaide, South Australia The Bibliotheca Bar and Book Exchange was brought to my attention. This little bar is tucked away, and is a book lovers dream.

From the literary themed cocktails (I enjoyed the Willy Wonka inspired, Golden Ticket) to the cozy interior, lined with books, this place was sophisticated and moody. We brought a couple of books with us, which we left on the shelves, and I took home with me My Salinger Year. You can find them on instagram @the_bibliotheca_bar

If you find yourself in Adelaide, go check it out!

I’ve included a couple of gratuitous holiday snaps below. In a season that has brought challenges for us all we so appreciated the chance to travel safely. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading this book review! If you’ve read My Salinger Year (or visited a fun bookish destination) comment on this post to let me know.

Haven’t had enough books? Come say hi to me on social media by searching @stephhuddlestonwriting or by clicking the buttons below.

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