Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Liz's Top Twenty of 2014, Day 2


I never watched the US version of The Office and I haven't gotten around to seeing The Mindy Project, so I really didn't have much of an idea who BJ Novak was when I read his short story collection One More Thing. I knew he was a comedian. It turns out he's also a writer.

These are SHORT short stories; some are only a few pages or paragraphs. They are also charming, effervescent, thought-provoking, and irreverent. For example, there's "The Something by John Grisham." Novak riffs on the publishing joke about all of Grisham's titles are "The __________." In this sketch, Grisham delivers his latest manuscript to Doubleday and an intern keys in "The Something" as a place holder until the book is titled. ...Except it goes to press that way. Oops. Another story that stuck in my head is an imagining of a Comedy Central Roast for Nelson Mandela. It's one thing to hear Gilbert Gottfried squawk out raucous jokes at David Hasselhoff's expense, but imagine that voice lampooning one of the great civil rights leaders of the last century. Yeah, I'd watch that.


My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff is a dishy, fun, literary memoir about the year that Rakoff spent working in a New York literary agency. She was waffling with her career direction and relationship and ended up moving into a dump of an apartment with her live-in boyfriend and taking a job in publishing. It turned out that the job was as the assistant to the head of a literary agency with a glorious past and some big author clients. Judy Blume is a client, for instance. So is this guy Jerry who calls in periodically to ask questions about royalties. He's hard of hearing and therefore screams into the phone, and he calls Joanna "Suzanne" all the time. Also, the place stops when Jerry calls. Jerry is the enigmatic J.D. Salinger, and it's 1996, the year Salinger almost breaks his silence and allows a story to be published for the first time in decades. It's 1996, but the office still relies on electric typewriters and dictaphones, and one of Joanna's duties is to reply to the many fan letters Salinger receives. This memoir is eventful, well written, and full of literary dirt. It's about a woman trying to figure out her life while an agency tries to figure out its role in a rapidly changing industry landscape.

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