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New McPhee

John McPhee has a new book of essays. Need I say more?

Book Cover The phrase “must read” seems to have afflicted the literary critical machinery—which, if it is a barrier to the usual chirpy prose and even worse smarmy pronouncements, may be a tolerable symptom. In the case of New Yorker writer John McPhee (whose writing career began there in 1964), it would be entirely applicable.

Silk Parachute (FSG), McPhee’s new collection of nine essays, most of which has appeared in some form in the New Yorker, does appear to operate with a wider purview. If I were susceptible to certain pretentious locutions, I would be tempted to call McPhee’s expanded vision meta-meditative.

The title essay, appearing in the New Yorker in 1997, is a sweet tribute to his mother, while the remaining eight are referential to his life and times at the New Yorker—where you learn legendary editor William Shawn had a lead palate, preferring to eat corn flakes as dinner entrees (“My Life’s List”). Or there is my favorite, “Checkpoints,” which profiles the famed New Yorker fact-checking department. And for those interested in encountering the rising popularity of lacrosse (at least in the leafy suburbs of the northeast), a vivid and explicative piece on that sport: “Spin Right and Shoot Left.”

McPhee, a pioneer of so-called New Journalism and Creative Non-Fiction before it was called Creative Non-Fiction, has published 28 books. Take your choice.
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