Thursday, September 1, 2016

Book Reviews: 'My Salinger Year' by Joanna Rakoff and 'Dear Emma' by Katie Heaney

1. My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff
This was a simple, fun and, for the most part, entertaining read. Rakoff tells the story of the year she worked at a literary agency in New York City as an editor's assistant who was later put in charge of answering the one and only J.D. Salinger's fan mail. Salinger, who didn't want to receive any fan mail or any mail whatsoever, asked the agency to send out a form letter saying that they were not permitted to send on the person's letter to him. Rakoff, however, finds herself emotionally invested in some of the letters and begins sending back her own personalized replies explaining how Salinger doesn't want any mail but at the same time tries to offer them advice. At times, My Salinger Year read not like a memoir, but like a dated contemporary novel, which was nice sometimes and not so nice at others. While it was interesting to read about the goings-on of a lit agency in NYC in the late 90s when the world was on the cusp of going completely digital, Rakoff's story seems...somewhat useless at times. I'm not discrediting what working for the agency and Salinger did for her and her career, but there were parts in the book where I just felt like the dust jacket description was over-selling it. It's just Rakoff telling her story of becoming an adult, facing the harsh real world and the year she worked for the lit agency that represented J.D. Salinger. Yes, there were parts where she talks about responding to the fan mail, but I wouldn't describe that as the central part of her story like the dust jacket seems to. There were times where I wanted to scream at her, asking her why she was doing that or why she was insistent on dating and living with a complete and total ass who she didn't even like most of the time, but alas, Joanna did not listen to me. My Salinger Year is definitely a story worth telling and is very interesting and relatable in parts, but in others I found it a tad underwhelming. Maybe that's just me, but I felt like Rakoff could have tried a little harder to justify some of her life choices and career goals in something she's called a memoir. 4/5 stars. 

2. Dear Emma, by Katie Heaney
How shall I describe Dear Emma? It was...okay. Heaney is one of my favorite BuzzFeed writers; I've loved every non-fiction piece I've come across of hers on there, so when I heard that she was coming out with her fiction debut about a college girl who runs an advice column for her school's paper, I thought it sounds just like the book for me. And it was. It just...could have been better. Harriet is the woman behind Dear Emma, an advice column for a Midwestern college newspaper. When Harriet starts going out with Keith, who she really likes, she thinks she's finally found someone, but then he completely blows her off and starts going out with Remy, who works at the campus library with Harriet. It was cute and original in parts where it sheds light on Facebook stalking and dating in the iPhone and social media age, but I think Dear Emma could have been a cute, easy and better book if the writing style wasn't so juvenile and more than half the story wasn't just Harriet interacting with her two best friends and roommates, Mel and Logan. There were times like I felt I was standing in a women's locker room listening to some white-bred, straight twentysomething girls over-analyze a text message. I'm all for cute contemporaries where girls overthink things like social interactions and text messages, but the writing style was just way too juvenile for me at times. Please God, never use more than one exclamation point or question mark in a piece of writing that you're going to show to people and have it count for something. I don't care what it is, just never do it. Like, honestly, Dear Emma isn't even about the Dear Emma column very much. It's just Harriet, her sometimes annoying friends, the guy who blows her off, the unfortunate soul who falls for him next and a bunch of jumbled conversations. It definitely had parts that I enjoyed, and parts where it felt like I was having teeth pulled just to finish the chapter. A lot of the interactions between the characters really had absolutely nothing to do with the point of the story or its outcome. And the point of the story promised on the back cover? It only actually starts happening more than halfway through the book. It's not all bad, but definitely not great. I should probably rate it lower, but I'm trying to focus on the book's positive attributes. 3.5/5 stars.

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