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Posts Tagged ‘Random House’

That’s Material: An Interview with Daniel Menaker

January 21, 2014 | by

my mistake

Daniel Menaker doesn’t waste time in signaling his penchant for self-deprecation. The title of his wise, playful, deeply felt new memoir is My Mistake. And the memoirist, no mere tease, is happy to detail the errors he’s made during his life and his celebrated career as fiction editor of The New Yorker, publisher at Random House, and author of novels, stories, and essays.

Most of the blunders recounted by Menaker aren’t too dire, but he remains haunted by the inadvertent role he played in his only sibling’s untimely death. During a game of touch football in 1967, he challenged his older brother, Mike, to play backfield despite Mike’s bad knees, and from there everything went horribly amiss: Mike, then twenty-nine, sustained an injury that led to knee surgery, and this surgery led to a fatal blood infection called septicemia.

For all of Menaker’s mistakes, great and small, readers of My Mistake will likely feel that he got a lot more right than wrong. His memoir takes us from a red-diaper childhood in Greenwich Village through teenage summers on a colorful uncle’s Berkshires guest camp and an education at Swarthmore in the early sixties; it recounts his professional mentoring by the legendary William Maxwell and William Shawn, his office politics with Tina Brown and Harry Evans, and the editing of some of the great authors of our age. Menaker, who, at seventy-two, has written five other books, is an expert at turning those proverbial life-lemons into lemonades; his description of his protracted recent struggle with lung cancer, for example, winds up being one of the memoir’s most inspiring and invigorating sections.

Since finishing My Mistake, Menaker has been working on a series of thematically linked stories, and during an early December break in his current “self-financed” book tour, he answered each question I catapulted at him by telephone.

In My Mistake you say that writing a memoir was a means for you to take stock of your life while facing possible death, pondering what you call “the Great Temporariness.”

The book came about through a really weird route. The proposal for it was vastly different from the finished product. Fourteen people rejected it. I posted the rejections on the Huffington Post, and got in terrible trouble for that with my agent. I didn’t care—I’m too old to care about that shit. I just thought it was funny. And then somebody made an offer, but he was let go from the publishing house, or left, shortly after he acquired my book. I like to think there was no causal connection!

I’m not a big fan of the present tense, but it functions well in My Mistake.

Memoir is such a vexed form and category, for any number of reasons. I can’t even count how many reasons there are for not writing a memoir. People are not in it, or they are in it, they’re pissed off, your memory is wrong—there are all sorts of land mines. With a book that doesn’t have anything truly remarkable in it—I wasn’t captured and sexually violated for ten years, I wasn’t a jihadist, I didn’t go into outer space—I had to figure out how I could make this more immediate. It’s a kind of gadget to use the present tense, but it felt right. And it helped me to put myself—or pretend to myself that I was putting myself—back in the moment. It was a sort of shoehorn back into the past. Read More »

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On the Shelf

January 11, 2012 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • The joy of books.
  • The Hatchet Job of the Year.
  • What Bill Clinton reads.
  • What Michelle Obama doesn’t.
  • And maybe it’s trivial to know that Salman Rushdie loves Carrie Fisher, quotes Clive James and is looking forward to seeing Hari Kunzru and Tom Stoppard at the Jaipur literary festival, but knowing random bits of information about people one admires just is, for whatever reason, enjoyable. It’s like being friends with them, except they have no idea who you are, but it doesn’t matter because this is still closer than you'd ever normally get.”
  • Random House acquires Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart.
  • Roald Dahl goes postal.
  • Tolkien is snubbed.
  • “First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.”
  • Joanna Newsom, novelist?
  • McBooks.
  • If Norman Mailer likes me, I’ll kill myself.”
  • Sayonara, Nook.
  • 3 COMMENTS

    ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ at Fifty

    October 31, 2011 | by

    'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster turns fifty.

    Even the most confident of writers can be excused for wondering if words, mere black-and-white glyphs, can compete in a world filled with ever more animated, flashing, full-color, special-effects-crammed and interactive visual media. At such times, it’s helpful to remember a passage from Norton Juster’s children’s novel, The Phantom Tollbooth, describing a visit by the hero, Milo, to the archives of the Soundkeeper in the Lands Beyond.

    The Soundkeeper boasts that her vaults contain “every sound that’s ever been made in history.” To prove it, she opens a drawer and pulls out “a small brown envelope,” explaining that it contains “the exact tune George Washington whistled when he crossed the Delaware on that icy night in 1777.” Milo, Juster writes, “peered into the envelope and, sure enough, that’s exactly what was in it.” The narrative moves briskly on.

    Like much of the best fiction for children, this scene illustrates how writing well consists not only of knowing what to put in, but also of knowing what to leave out. Read More »

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    A Week in Culture: Sarah Burnes, Literary Agent

    November 3, 2010 | by

    Author’s Note: So as to not turn this into a kind of Caucasian Chalk Circle—that is, play favorites, pit one client against another—I am not going to mention any of my own this week unless they win an award or Lorin tells me to.

    DAY ONE

    6:56 A.M. Alarm goes off, blaring NPR. Sebastian gets up to wake the kids. I turn off the radio and go back to sleep.

    7:34 A.M. The Middlest comes up to make sure I am awake. I turn on the radio and listen to the Morning Edition story about the NFL enforcing their own rules.

    8:35 A.M. For reasons both Byzantine and boring, I am driving to work today, dropping off the Littlest at kindergarten on the way. We pass by a Wonder Bread truck as we walk to the car.

    “Candy!” he shouts.

    “No,” I reply. “That’s a bread truck.”

    “A candy bread truck?”

    9:45 A.M. At the office, I close my door to finish my weekend reading. I’m reading on a Kindle, which is convenient, but I haven’t yet figured out how to transfer my notes and highlights onto a document, so it’s not nearly as useful as it might be. Or as a paper manuscript is. But of course this makes me like this guy.

    11:07 A.M. An offer comes in via e-mail! It’s going to be a good week.

    1:00 P.M. Lunch with my friend Diane, Executive Director of the New Press. I tell her I think she should publish a book on the legal roots of the foreclosure crisis, and she looks at me quizzically. I realize I’m not explaining myself well1 and tell her I’ll give it more thought. We gossip about the kids in the sunshine at La Esquina.

    2:35 P.M. Early for an appointment, I duck into B&N (there was no nearby independent!) and browse. I buy Gail Collins’s When Everything Changed, having just gobbled up Rebecca Traister’s Big Girls Don’t Cry. I also buy the current issue of Vogue, which really I should just subscribe to.

    4:48 P.M. I dive back into a proposal I am editing—on paper.

    5:57 P.M. Pack up bag. Since it’s Monday, I have all my favorite magazines, including the NYRB.

    6:20 P.M. Driving home, I listen to the end of All Things Considered and to Marketplace and shout at this guy who says that there should not be a moratorium on foreclosures. What if it were your paperwork that got lost, pal?

    7:14 P.M. My beloved mother-in-law and the Eldest’s BFF are over for dinner. I make chicken and broccoli2 from dinneralovestory.com, and even the picky eater eats it.

    8:24 P.M. The Littlest and I are reading Charlotte’s Web. They’re at the fair, and Charlotte has just created her magnum opus, her egg sac. My friend Sarah says that when she got married, CW was one of three books she required her husband-to-be to have read.

    8:54 P.M. The Middlest reads me a chapter of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights while I flip through New York. After the kids have been convinced to go to bed, I realize the Eldest has stolen my New Yorker, so I read The New York Review of Books (Cathy Schine agrees with me on Jennifer Egan).

    10:15 P.M. I read a couple of chapters of Sigrid Nunez’s Salvation City. I loved The Last of Her Kind, but this is a different—if equally accomplished—kind of book. The last one was saturated in envy, but this one seems to be about … love.

    Read More »

    Annotations

    1. But isn’t, like, MERS totally evil?
    2. Thanks, Andy and Jen!

    12 COMMENTS