Review – My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

I go through phases where all I want to read are books-about-books. So when – during one of those phases – I saw this, in Waterstones in Bath, I had to have it.

Which is why, when I first cracked it open, I didn’t think that me and Ms Rakoff were going to get along very well. What I expected was a literary-cousin-once-removed type memoir; what I got, for the first chapter at least, read like a graduating-and-moving-to-New-York-City novel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a good graduating-and-moving-to-New-York-City novel, but I don’t like being missold to. What I wanted was some gossip on JD Salinger, so when the author admitted early on that she hadn’t read any of his books, it didn’t bode too well.

Fortunately, things got significantly better once the man himself showed up. I ended up really enjoying this. There are some brilliantly concise pen portraits of characters at the agency, and some glorious moments of social awkwardness with the ill-suited socialist boyfriend which would have had the early-twenties version of me cringing in recognition. It continued, throughout, to read like a novel – but I don’t mean that as an insult; instead it meant that I raced through it in a single evening, which can only be a good sign.

It also made me want to re-read ‘Catcher in the Rye’, and read (for the first time) some of Salinger’s other work, so those go firmly onto the TBR list.

You can tell that the author is a poet by some of the turns of phrase, beautiful and rich without being overwritten. And if there were parts of it where the plot seemed a little unbelievable for a ‘non-fiction’ volume, well, I think it’s a fair trade for it being such an entertaining read.

****

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