Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process - John McPhee

Staff Pick

“Readers are not supposed to notice the structure,” advises acclaimed New Yorker staff writer John McPhee in Draft No. 4 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $25), his collection of essays on craft. “It is meant to be about as visible as someone’s bones.” Counter-intuitively, perhaps, McPhee employs a variety of elaborate diagrams, charts, and in one case a doodle involving a turtle, a weasel, and a muskrat, to take a story from conception to a polished magazine piece that might run to as many as 80,000 words. So it comes as something of a relief to learn that this author of more than thirty books doesn’t always know what he is doing when he embarks on a new project. “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something —-anything —-as a first draft.” Or that he once found himself up against a deadline, sprawled on the floor “near tears in a catatonic swivit,” with but one sentence written. This slim, entertaining volume also offers reportage on reporting itself, including McPhee’s struggle to convince a reluctant Jackie Gleason to cooperate for a Time magazine profile in 1961, as well as “two highly germane anecdotes” involving food and the legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn. McPhee is surprisingly funny in a wonky, droll, practical, grammarian sort of way. Is the plural of attorney general “attorneys general” or “attorney generals?” And what do you do with a bunch of attorney(s) general(s) and the ensuing apostrophe(s) when they possess objects (in the plural), such as, for example, cars? Mr. McPhee will make you care about the answer, regardless of whether it will ever figure in any sentence you may one day write.

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process By John McPhee Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374142742
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - September 5th, 2017

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) - David Sedaris

Staff Pick

I read everything that David Sedaris writes.  And when I have finished his latest piece, I always miss his voice.  That melancholy was even greater when I finished Theft by Finding, Diaries 1977-2002 (Little, Brown, $28).  Sedaris says this is the first volume of his diaries, edited, to be sure, because the man writes every day of his life.  Some of the entries are lengthy stories about the events of his day.  Some are observations about his friends and family.  Many, though, are short treats —funny or poignant or devastating bits from the world around him, written at the time he was experiencing them.  I made a mistake when I read this book.  I was so excited to have it, that I read the whole thing in just a couple of days.  On a road trip with my mom, I read choice passages to her while she drove.  It was a nice way to enjoy someone else’s diaries, but if I had it to do over again, I would have taken my time and savored each entry even more.

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) By David Sedaris Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316154727
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Little, Brown and Company - May 30th, 2017