Coming Of Age Through J.D. Salinger's Fan Mail

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Copies of J.D. Salinger's classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye." (Amy Sancetta/AP)
Copies of J.D. Salinger's classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye." (Amy Sancetta/AP)

In her debut memoir, "My Salinger Year," Cambridge-based author Joanna Rakoff recounts her coming-of-age at the dawn of the digital age, and the connection she forged with one of the world's most famous — and famously reclusive — contemporary writers.

She was a 23-year-old English lit grad school dropout in 1996, living in a sub-par Brooklyn apartment with her wannabe novelist boyfriend. Rakoff landed her first job mostly by accident, and her memoir tells the story of that work as an assistant at the literary agency representing J.D. Salinger.

Among Rakoff's job duties: answering the phone calls and fan mail that poured in for Salinger, including letters from angst-ridden teenagers and grieving veterans. In the process, Rakoff developed a one-sided emotional bond with the man.

WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with author Joanna Rakoff about her Salinger experience. Rakoff will be reading from her memoir at Porter Square Books tonight at 7 p.m.


Joanna Rakoff, author of "My Salinger Year." She tweets at @jsmithrakoff.


The New York Times: Bright Young Assistants

  • "As the spirit of Salinger haunts the Agency, so he begins to haunt Rakoff, in the guise of his fan mail, which he stopped answering decades earlier. Nevertheless, bushels of it arrive on her desk: letters from World War II veterans, 'tragic letters' from people who had 'found solace' in his stories or from 'crazies' ranting in 'smudged pencil.' His biggest devotees are teenagers who love 'The Catcher in the Rye' and believe that the man who understands 'what it's like to be surrounded by phonies' understands them too and would like to be friends."

The Guardian: My Salinger Year By Joanna Rakoff

  • "'My Salinger Year' is the tale of a young woman accustomed to having her life's course dictated by others (her father, her boyfriend, her boss) as she comes to the realization that it is time to grow up. The earnest young Rakoff who pored over Faulkner and Didion in the ramshackle, unheated apartment she shared with a man who patronized her was, in truth, overdue for a Salinger moment and in sore need of Holden Caulfield's scepticism and irreverence. She got it. It is the kind of story that is happening all around us, all the time. But there's no grander setting for it than New York."

This segment aired on June 9, 2014.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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