At twenty-three, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dreams of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J. D. Salinger. She spends her days in a plush, wood-paneled office, where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign and old-time agents doze at their desks after martini lunches. At night she goes home to the tiny, threadbare Williamsburg apartment she shares with her socialist boyfriend. Precariously balanced between glamour and poverty, surrounded by titanic personalities, and struggling to trust her own artistic instinct. Over the course of the year, she finds her own voice by acting as Salinger’s, on her own dangerous and liberating terms.
This selection was for one of the book clubs I’m in, and not normally something I would choose to read. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, and I’ve never read anything by Salinger. Gasp! Maybe one day….
The setting of the place she works at is stuck in the 1950’s, with the dictaphones and typewriters. At first I thought it was the 50’s, until I read that it was actually the mid 90’s. The Agency (and yes, that’s how Rakoff speaks of it), does not send Salinger any of the fan letters that he receives, and one of her jobs is to send a standard form letter. She starts to actually reply to some of the letters, letting them know Salinger can’t, but here’s her words of wisdom.
There is not much about Salinger in this book, it’s about Joanna Rakoff, who comes from a well off family, and lives in New York trying her hand at becoming a published poet. While the clients at The Agency are being wined and dined, she’s living in an apartment that doesn’t have heat, in the winter, in New York. But she wants to live the dream so she continues to be with a man who she was fascinated by at first, but then slowly realizes he’s using her for the small amount of money she has.
Rakoff loses the friends she had in college, and realizes the people she thought were her current friends, have many issues. Her parents stop paying her credit cards and student loans, so the lifestyle she led of going out for drinks and dinners, starts to decrease. Basically her life is like the millions of people who are on their own, don’t have parents to pay their way, and only find low paying jobs.
She makes it work, like so many other people are forced to do everyday. But the big difference is she has her parents to fall back on, if she really needs to. By the end of the book, she’s talked to Salinger on the phone a bunch of times, and once in person. And she’s made contacts in The Agency, and is able to start getting some of her work published.
This memoir was okay. Nothing super exciting happened, and I wonder if she hadn’t had some contact with Salinger, if this book would have even been published. Perhaps if you enjoy her poetry, and want to know a bit more about her, I would say go for it.