Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Salinger Year

I had a hard time starting this review. I came back to it again and again and found that I would stare at the unfinished sentence I had left off at and not be able to form words. This is not to say I didn't enjoy My Salinger Year, I loved it! I was completely taken by it and transported to 1990's New York City, the NYC of my childhood, long before I knew who Salinger was, or that I could work in a world of editing words and write about my love of books on the side. But writing this review? That was a different thing.

There was something about this book that made it feel personal for me. "All of Us Girls", the two page beginning of this book, immediately caught my attention. The careful detail given to describe the girls preparing for their day of work; the particular dress, the morning practice of breakfast pick-ups, then the job itself--obeying bosses, working with authors, buzzing from the famous and creative energy from these special clients, and the desire to be an author themselves. I was snagged by this description, even though it was only two pages long. I understood this passage. I got it. I had been one of those girls. Working for publishing? No, not really, not in the literary sense. But I have carefully chosen my wardrobe to fit the part prior to leaving in early morning light to travel to my new job. That nervous desire of being seen as special, a shining star, all while wearing the heavy dream of being so much more than this little job you have taken a particularly long time to dress for.

Joanna Rakoff details a year of time as she worked at a literary agency while figuring out the world and the track her life was on. At times I found her extremely frustrating. At this point in her life, she's living with her loser boyfriend who she had met while in a relationship with another guy--who you only hear of by terms of endearment, the man sounds wonderful. It makes it hard for you to like her or her (current) boyfriend as the former boyfriend always continues to sound pleasant whenever he's mentioned. But that aside, Joanna definitely doesn't have a peaches and cream lifestyle at this time. The apartment she lives in has a roommate with a drug problem, followed by another apartment with no heat. Her pay is little and she finds it hard to keep a social circle as everything is expensive; hell, even getting a sandwich for lunch can be a splurge.

For me, particularly, while I condemn cheating on significant others and the likes, I understood why it was happening. Or at least, from my point of view. Here's Joanna in her early 20s. Like most women at that age, they're still figuring out their lives, they're still getting their footing. There were so many mistakes made by myself and every girl I know when they were in their early 20s and fresh out of college. It's a part of growing up. Stupid boyfriends, bad living situations, you name it. There's also that need to achieve; the mental state that yes, you do deserve your dreams; and the first jobs where you're paid pennies but it's still something, so you stick with it, even if you're living off Ramen. I identified with that because I've been there. Hell, just two years ago I was there. I was budgeting every cent I had to make sure there was enough to pay my bills but also feed myself. When Joanna received her loans and credit card statements and was shocked, I had to laugh, because I understood how that was after graduation when I started seeing them come in. It's easy to spend money but so much harder when you have to pay it back.

But where my familiarity with situations ends is at her job. While her office environment was a dead ringer for a job I left a year ago (again, familiarity and understanding), it was the tasks of her job that were lost to me. I never worked with famous authors. I never fielded my way through letters that were sent to authors. This, even with the poor pay and crummy office environment, was and is a dream job of sorts.

The emphasis of this being a year of Salinger should be clarified. I approached this book expecting to see a lot of Salinger. I expected that Joanna would become dear friends with him. But even the head of the literary agency killed that dream the moment Joanna began. No, she wouldn't become friends with him. There were strict rules to follow. While Salinger is often talked about and Joanna becomes quite the fan, he only makes one appearance. What struck me as the true stars are the letters that Salinger received, sent to the agency for review and reply. He was to never see these letters and Joanna had to respond with a very repetitive letter from the agency explaining that Salinger didn't want letters. But many of the letters were extremely interesting and so open, so alive, and so honest. I don't believe I could read the letters without wanting to send a real reply and offer some hope to those writers.

Joanna obviously felt the same way and did respond personally to a few, clearly breaking office rules, but who cares? I'm glad she did.

I really enjoyed this book and I enjoyed Joanna's writing. For Christmas, my beau actually bought me another book written by her. I enjoyed the tale told and I loved the nostalgic edge to it--I so often remembered how I felt 5+ years ago. Granted, I'm still in my 20s and definitely not far from that stage of my life, but far enough to know I've changed and appreciate what I've learned.

Last Week's Review: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
Next Week's Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

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