It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Do you remember your first step into the world of proper, grown-up work?

Joanna Rakoff does. She landed one of those jobs that are so very desirable that they can be appallingly paid; she became an assistant at a long-established, highly prestigious New York literary agency. This book is a memoir of the time she spend there.

It’s simply, elegantly and coolly written, and it catches that very particular stage of life beautifully.

Joanna had parted company with the college sweetheart who everyone – herself included – had expected her to marry, and  set up home with Don – who she had to support because he couldn’t work and write his novel. The signs weren’t good, and neither was the kind of flat that their joint budget could afford.

20896238Joanna’s adjustment to post-student life  – dealing with of debt, having to pay the bills, learning to live with one other person in a very small space, watching friends moving in different direction –  is set against her first steps into the world of publishing.

Her new employer – ‘The Agency’ – seemed untouched by the passage of time. Joanna found that she was to spend her days typing – on an old-fashioned type-writer – from a Dictaphone that she had to learn to work with a foot-pedal. There was not one single computer, no fax machine.Theagency was out of step with the world.

Joanna worked for an agent who was a formidable lady of very few words. She had lost many assistants  but Joanna hung on, even though her dreams of reading manuscripts and meeting authors had been dashed, because she needed her small salary to keep her head above water.

I felt for her, but it was lovely to have a glimpse of the workings of The Agency.

The Agency – and Joanna’s boss – were allowed to be arrogant because they had a very, very famous client.

When she was given very particular instructions about how to deal with Jerry – never to call him, never to forward mail, never give out any information, never to approach him, never engage him in conversation – it took a while to realise who Jerry was.

He was J D Salinger.

Joanna had no problem with that because, though she knew his name, she had never read his books.

And that might be why, in time, she was given the job of sending out the standard replies to the letters to the author that arrived every day. At first she did just that, but she was curious about who these people were and why they wrote. She began to read the letters, and she began to respond to what they wrote. It was understandable, it was fascinating to see who wrote and why they wrote, but I worried that there could be consequences ….

One consequence was that Joanna stated to read Salinger’s books, and started to understand. There was a lovely bookishness about this book from the start and that made this aspect of her story even richer.

And so this became an account of lessons in life, in work, and in literature.

The man himself made a few appearances – on the phone, and once he even set foot in the office.

There’s a little less Salinger than the title suggests. That didn’t bother me, because I’m not a devotee, and because Joanna’s experience helped me to understand why so many are. I’m sure those who are will appreciate the glimpses they get, and knowing the nature of the man wouldn’t expect – or maybe even want – too much more.

Eventually Joanna is given more responsibility, and she discovers that there is far more to The  Agency and the people who work there  than she realised. But she walks away when a new path opens up for her ….

It was lovely to read of the time – a little over a year – that Joanna spent at the agency; and  I could see that she appreciated the experiences she had and the things that those experiences taught her, because she wrote about it so very thoughtfully and engagingly.