Joanna Rakoff’s “My Salinger Year” is a memoir that is particularly relevant to 20-something girls. It’s a story we’ve heard before, namely on the popular HBO show Girls, but that does not make this story any less engrossing. Sometimes truth must be told several times before it sets in.
Rakoff’s memoir documents her year working for the literary agency which represented J.D. Salinger. The book is not so much about J.D. Salinger, or the fans that write to him whose letters are never delivered. It is more about Rakoff’s coming of age. It is the story of that first real job in New York City. Those cold nights in a dimly lit, shithole apartment, when all there is to eat is a sad bowl of Ramen. It’s a story to which we can all relate, even those of us who have never experienced the patent cruelty of the Big Apple on a literal level. Reading this story can help us take collective solace in the fact that it really will get better and we won’t be broke forever.
This memoir is very relatable. It rings true with every detail, even down to the pompous asshole boyfriend every girl has suffered through at some point. As a memoir, this book succeeds in showing the beauty that comes with struggling to make it. The book also succeeds in elucidating the connection between life and art. It shows the effect of art on our lives, the way one book can change everything.
Growing up sometimes means seeing yourself in a different way:
“Was it possible that Don was right? That the world perceived me in a manner entirely different from how I perceived myself? Was it possible, too, that one could be complicated, intellectual, awake to the world, that one could be an artist, and also be rosy and filled with light?”
Everyone who has ever been torn between art and the rest of the world knows this struggle well. The realization that one does not have to fit into a mold is a liberating feeling, and this is something that Rakoff’s memoir does very well. It brings the reader into Rakoff’s life at this point, and the reader is likely to feel they have gained some self-confidence along with her.
This memoir is a great library pick-up. Fans of Girls will devour this book and love Rakoff as the protagonist. Lovers of New York will also love this book. The prose places the reader directly in the city and makes the reader feel nostalgic for experiences they may never have had. This is an achievement for any writer, but especially in the genre of non-fiction.
This book should be read on the floor, next to a giant box of white wine, with a bowl of shrimp-flavored Top Ramen to help us properly embrace our broke-ass roots.