Two works of non-fiction / memoir here, although one is about a deeply personal experience working in the literary field in New York and the other about mainly British experiences of returning servicemen after World War Two. Both rely heavily on memory and perhaps edited pasts, although with flashes of what can only be truth, and both were good reads.
Joanna Rakoff – “My Salinger Year”
(25 December 2015 – from Bridget)
A surprise gift that I didn’t know I wanted, this turned out to be a very interesting read. It’s a memoir of a year spent working at the agency that represented J.D. Salinger. Set in 1996, the details of clothes and office life are fascinating (I’ve just realised that I must be the same age as the author and was doing the same kind of temp office work while working out what to do with my life (and saving up to go to library school) at the same time!), even without the interest of it being set in a literary agency. Not quite in the computer age, they use typewriters for everything (I remember having to type invoices with carbon paper at this time!) and Joanna has trouble breaking out of secretarial mode.
A coming of age story more than anything, and you can feel for the protagonists, but it might make more sense reading it if you were their age – much like “Catcher in the Rye”, of course. The parts where she raves about Salinger’s work when she finally gets round to reading it felt a bit unnecessary, and the workarounds to maintain the anonymity of the agency and her boss (odd, as surely a quick Google would find this out) are a bit clunky, but it was nicely written and edited and I appreciated the epilogue bringing us up to date.
Julie Summers – “Stranger in the House”
(acquired via BookCrossing 10 October 2015)
Some friends read it for a book group (I don’t think the person who owned this copy was that thrilled by it, oddly), and I forgot to ask to borrow it, then happened upon it on a book trolley at a pub where they meet and I volunteer at a social media surgery. So that was handy.
This is a fascinating and painstaking work of social history tracing the effect on the lives of all sorts of women of the return of soldiers after the Second World War. With chapters focusing on mothers, wives, widows and daughters, plus special chapters on the men who were POWs in the Far East and on babies born after the war, the book uses powerful first-person narratives to great effect. Some of these are drawn from diaries of the time, published through Mass Observation, but most are drawn from the author’s own direct research. They express stories and feelings that often had not been told or told of before the research was being done, and feel very honest.
Some of the editing was a bit off, but an interesting and vital work of research and synthesis.
I’ve been doing some initial reading of Virginia Woolf’s “The Common Reader”, mainly mining the two volumes for quotations to complete the first draft of my research work (Tick: hooray!) and am now looking forward to going through them properly. I’ve also started “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris”, which is charming, and Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer”, first read in 2002 and being re-read along with Matthew listening to the audio book. What are you reading? Have you done your 1947 Club book yet or are you waiting, like me, for the week itself?