If you like behind-the-scene glimpses into the lives of famous authors and introspective musings on how (and why) certain authors touch us the way they do, you will probably enjoy My Salinger Year. The book is based on the real-life experiences that the author, Joanna Rakoff had while working for a literary agent who represented the famously private and eccentric author, J. D. Salinger.
I think one of the things I really appreciated about My Salinger Year is that Rakoff didn’t come to the job as a Salinger fangirl. I somehow missed going through the obligatory Catcher in the Rye phase as a moody teenager and only discovered Salinger as an adult. Likewise, Rakoff had never read Salinger until she came to work at the Agency. This late arrival to the Salinger party may seem a bit suspect at first. I mean, what could be more (if you will pardon the phrase), phony than a writer trying to cash in on a much more famous and successful author? But Rakoff’s discovery of Salinger and her re-telling of the weekend where she practically devours all of Salinger’s books and stories allows the reader to re-live the experience of discovering a great author. Also, by coming to Salinger as an adult, she is able to form a more nuanced view of him and his writing than if she had to fight through the typical adolescent obsession with Holden Caulfield.
Another thing I enjoyed about the book were the fan letters to Salinger. Since the author didn’t want anything to do with fan mail, the Agency intercepted the letters that fans wrote to Salinger and replied with an impersonal form letter. As an assistant, Rakoff was responsible for these replies. The letters, ranging from Holden Caulfield wannabes to veterans who found peace and healing in Salinger’s writing, added more layers to the reader’s view of Salinger, his place in our literary culture and how his writing affects different kinds of readers. And Rakoff’s reactions (and occasional non-form-letter replies) were interesting and thought-provoking.
Ultimately, even though Salinger himself does make a few appearances in the story, My Salinger Year isn’t really about J.D. Salinger. Instead, it is about finding the things (like a famous author and his books) that speaks to you enough to help you find your path.