I learned about Joanna Rakoff and her memoir, My Salinger Year, when she was interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts, Forever35. In the book, she recounts her first year post-college, living in New York City and working for a literary agency. But this isn't just any agency. It's the agency that represents J.D. Salinger.
Each day Joanna commutes into work, takes her seat at her desk and uses a typewriter to draft up documents requested by her boss (who is annoyingly absent) and to respond to fan mail sent to Salinger. She makes good friends with her colleagues, Max and Hugh, who provide support and encouragement in her moments of self-doubt.
Joanna eventually receives a call from Salinger, and over the course of the year, they develop a kind rapport through their phone conversations. Each time I read about one of their chats, I couldn't help but think, "Can you imagine talking to THE J.D. Salinger?" The kicker? She was allowed to call him Jerry.
Outside of work, Joanna is wrestling with all the usual new grad things. She lives in a terrible apartment with no heat. Her parents want her to start paying her student loans, which she didn't even know they had taken out in her name. She becomes so thin from eating like a bird (to save money) that colleagues start to notice.
Relatably, she's also dating a terrible guy. He's a writer and is shopping around a book. He can't fathom that Joanna wants to write too, and scoffs when she shares a magazine's interest in her poetry.
In the background of that crappy relationship, are pangs of nostalgia for her college boyfriend. Anytime she shares a memory of him or they get back in touch, you can feel her entire mood shift. She becomes lighter.
For example, on page 101, she is talking about a current routine with her partner, while dreaming of how it used to be with her college love. She writes, "Every so often, he took my hand and gave it a squeeze across the small table. His hands were no bigger than mine; no longer in finger and thumb, but wider and always warm, like a child's. For a moment, I thought of my college boyfriend's hands, which were long and elegant and cool; I had loved watching him turn the pages of a book or slice an apple, loved feeling them on my ribs, my neck. My breath slowed with desire."
I found Rakoff's writing to be wonderfully descriptive. I love this passage about returning to home to her parents' house for respite. On page 155, "Still, I was - perhaps foolishly - looking forward to the comforts of my parents' cool, spacious house: the puffs of central air wafting through the vents in my old room; my soft childhood bed with its pink-sprigged sheets; our green lawn and enormous, sprawling trees that shaded it. Running out for bagels with my dad on Sunday morning. I was looking forward to being taken care of, if only a little."
Compared to other books I've read recently, I must admit that I found this one a bit slow. While it was deeply relatable, there wasn't much action or excitement. It's definitely more of a "day in the life" style story.
Last month, it premiered as a film adaptation starring Margaret Qualley as Joanna and Sigourney Weaver as her boss. I haven't watched yet, but if you're interested, here is the trailer. It's available to rent on Amazon Prime for $6.99.
I just started reading Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron and I'm completely obsessed! More to come when I finish.
*Film image courtesy of Variety.