Book review: My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
`We must talk about Jerry`
MY SALINGER YEAR by Joanna Rakoff. Bloomsbury Books, 2014 release.
Obviously, the author will have Salinger fans at the second word in the book`s title, but it really is a lovely read, all of it. The peg is irresistible: a young New Yorker freshly graduated having majored in literature, goes to work — in 1996 — at a storied literary agency, the jewel in the agency`s crown being their VVIP client, JD Salinger, known improbably enough, as Jerry to them.
But representing the notoriously reclusive and publicity-phobe writer is not easy, as Rakoff soon learns. She`s very junior in the pecking order of course, but quickly learns that all calls pleading for Salinger`s contact details must be politely stonewalled, each and every letter from the weekly pile addressed to Salinger must be replied to using the standard format that the writer does not wish to receive fan letters, but read carefully they must be, given that a couple of Salinger fans, John Hinckley Jr and Mark David Chapman, had shot celebrities; and that the calls from The Man himself must be put through to the head of the agency immediately with no dalliance or casual chit-chat over the phone!
The Salingeriana forms the fascinating core of Rakoff`s book. We are told how the author had `strong feelings` about his book covers, the paper it was printed on, the font, the margins, the binding!
To cut to the chase, of course Salinger does ring his agency often, and yes, Rakoff does get into conversation willy-nilly with the great man himself. She also gets in a bit over her head with the plaintive, begging, pleading, effusive fan letters. And best of all, we are let in on a secret: Joanna Rakoff joined the agency representing JD Salinger without having read even one of his books! She catches up late in the day and is moved to tears, though.
The book emphasizes just how enduring Salinger`s popularity is, the world over (letters would fetch up from Europe, Africa, Sri Lanka) remained, some forty years after he`d written the classic Catcher in the Rye. In between are interspersed nuggets of life as a book agent, life in NYC of the late Nineties, life jusggling an uncertain relationship with professional commitments.
Says Rakoff, Salinger`s stories, are, to a one, anatomies of loss, every inch of them, from the start to the finish. Rakoff`s memoir, though, has its moments of happiness, of sorrow, of living in a world enriched by the writings of the simply wonderful JD Salinger.