Synopses & Reviews
Thanks to a successful interview with a painfully shy E. B. White, a beautiful nineteen-year-old hazel-eyed Midwesterner landed a job as receptionist at The New Yorker. There she stayed for two decades, becoming the general office factotum—watching and registering the comings and goings, marriages and divorces, scandalous affairs, failures, triumphs, and tragedies of the eccentric inhabitants of the eighteenth floor. In addition to taking their messages, Groth watered their plants, walked their dogs, boarded their cats, and sat their children (and houses) when they traveled. And although she dreamed of becoming a writer herself, she never advanced at the magazine.
This memoir of a particular time and place is as much about why that was so as it is about Groth’s fascinating relationships with poet John Berryman (who proposed marriage), essayist Joseph Mitchell (who took her to lunch every Friday), and playwright Muriel Spark (who invited her to Christmas dinner in Tuscany), as well as E. J. Kahn, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler, Peter Devries, Charles Addams, and many other New Yorker contributors and bohemian denizens of Greenwich Village in its heyday.
During those single-in-the-city years, Groth tried on many identities—Nice Girl, Sex Pot, Dumb Blonde, World Traveler, Doctoral Candidate—but eventually she would have to leave The New Yorker to find her true self.
"Revelatory dispatches from 21 years as a receptionist at the New Yorker 1957 to 1978 expose more about Groth's (Edmund Wilson) own sense of writerly inadequacy in that pre-feminist era than about the famous writers she worked for. Fresh out of the University of Minnesota, armed with a writing prize and an entrÃ©e to interview with the New Yorker's legendary E.B. White, Groth secured a receptionist job on the 18th floor of the midtown Manhattan building the 'writers' floor' with every expectation of moving on to fact-checking or reporting within a year or two. While answering their phones and messages, watering their plants, babysitting their kids, and housesitting, Groth secured mentoring relationships (and regular lunches) with numerous writers like John Berryman, Joseph Mitchell, and Muriel Spark, whom she delineates in touching tributes, yet the simmering subtext to this deeply reflective, rueful memoir is the question why she did not advance in two decades at the magazine. After losing her virginity to a young dissolute contract artist she calls Evan Simm, who ended up affianced to someone else, Groth plunged into a period of acting out as the promiscuous party girl ('Yep, a dumb blond,' she calls herself) before travel, psychotherapy, and graduate school directed her to a path of her own making. As the magazine weathered tumultuous events of the 1960s and '70, Groth chronicles the many dazzling personalities whose lives touched, and moved, hers. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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“In this insightful memoir, Menaker leads his readers down the hallowed halls of The New Yorker
... But the book isnt all business. Menaker also delves into the ups and downs of his personal life, from summers at his uncles camp, to the death of his mother. Tender, smart and witty, this book is truly unputdownable.” -- Real Simple
"A ruefully funny insiders tour of the publishing world.” -- Vogue.com
"[Menaker] contemplates the origins, happenstance, and consequences of his devotion to literature in a warm, humorous, on-point memoir. Amiably self-deprecating, Menaker is a deft sketch artist, vividly portraying loved ones (especially his older brother, who goaded him to excel and whose early death is the source of depthless sorrow) and colleagues (his portraits of New Yorker staff are hilarious, barbed, and tender). His insider view of publishing is eye-opening and entertaining." -- Booklist
"[Menaker] writes here of his hectic childhood with well-preserved romanticism. The result is charming. [He] is at his best when irreverent: chuckling at aptronyms (people aptly named), or deflating New Yorker legends (William Shawn and Tina Brown, most notably). Still, in this book of years, gossip is secondary to the writers own musings and memories. Menaker leaves the reader with a sense of the vast triumph that is a life well lived." —Publishers Weekly
"A well-known editors funny and thoughtful memoir of wrong turns, both in and out of publishing. . . Menaker doesnt just recount experiences; he digs away at them with wit and astute reflection, looking for the pattern of a life that defies easy profit-and-loss lessons."
—Kirkus, starred review
"Menaker examines a life lived well if not perfectly. Hes bold enough to explore his years at The New Yorker, where he stayed for 26 years despite discouragement from William Shawn, and the perpetual self-doubt that has dogged him, particularly owing to his role in his brothers inadvertent death. Certainly of interest to memoir fans and literati."
"How can something written so accurately be so witty? Don't you have to cheat a bit to wring the humor out of life? Daniel Menaker has constructed a compelling tale that irises down to a powerful and emotional climax and is delivered in exacting prose woven into affecting poetry."
"My Mistake is only sometimes rueful. It is also frequently funny and splendidly precise as it takes a look back at a life led in the world of magazine editing and book publishing, a behind-the-scenes rumination of a time gone by. Intriguing now, it will be necessary later; readers will be thankful for this quirky and delightful piece of history."
—Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys
"Daniel Menaker's distinctive journey through his own memories is impossible to resist—and not just for those of us with an appetite for literary anecdote. My Mistake is also the story of literary New York, with keen, vivid impressions from Menaker's Forties childhood, Cold War coming-of-age, and long career at the epicenter of the publishing industry during the onslaught of the Digital Age."
—Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
"I can't remember when I've read a memoir this—let's say 'soulful.' Funny, sad, and wryly self-aware, Menaker shines a bright light on his own background, our literary life, and his own path through it."
—James Gleick, author of The Information
"My Mistake brings to mind the poetic prose of James Agee. Menaker's stories of life as fiction editor at The New Yorker and Random House are a delight, the way he tells them simply perfect. Humorous, thoughtful, heartbreaking and brave. I have not enjoyed a memoir more."
—Julie Klam, New York Times bestselling author of Please Excuse My Daughter
"Menaker has spent a life with words as an editor at the New Yorker and Random House. Now he takes us behind the scenes with William Shawn (who didnt like him), Tina Brown (who gets her husband, Harry Evans, to hire him so she can get rid of him) and a parade of writers." -- Bloomberg
"A charming and revealing insider's look at the world of the New Yorker and big-time book publishing." -- Shelf Awareness
"A wild ride that will provide insider glimpses of the New York publishing world from 1969 onward, with the author serving as one of the scenes principal participants and sharpest observers...Not easy to pigeonhole, this is an amalgam of autobiography and cultural history at its best." - Bookpage
"My Mistake is a memoir of editor Daniel Menaker's life and long career, including 26 years at The New Yorker, which he calls a "brilliant crazy house." Set in the world of literary New York, it is undeniably insider-y and gossipy. (The stories about Tina Brown are not to be missed.) But the human experiences he describes — especially the hard stuff, like family, illness and death — will be familiar to anyone." -- NPR.com
In 1957, when a young Midwestern woman landed a job at The New Yorker, she didn't expect to stay long at the reception desk. But stay she did, and for twenty-one years she had the best seat in the house. In addition to taking messages, she ran interference for jealous wives checking on adulterous husbands, drank with famous writers at famous watering holes throughout bohemian Greenwich Village, and was seduced, two-timed, and proposed to by a few of the magazine's eccentric luminaries. This memoir of a particular time and place is an enchanting tale of a woman in search of herself.
A wry, witty, often tender memoir by a former New Yorker and Random House editor who has great tales of a life in words.
A wry, witty, often tender memoir by a former New Yorker editor, magazine writer, and book publisher who offers great tales of a life in words Daniel Menaker started as a fact checker at The New Yorker in 1969. With luck, hard work, and the support of William Maxwell, he was eventually promoted to editor. Never beloved by William Shawn, he was advised early on to find a position elsewhere; he stayed for another twenty-four years. Now Menaker brings us a new view of life in that wonderfully strange place and beyond, throughout his more than forty years working to celebrate language and good writing. He tells us his own story, too—with irrepressible style and honesty—of a life spent persevering through often difficult, nearly always difficult-to-read, situations. Haunted by a self-doubt sharpened by his role in his brothers unexpected death, he offers wry, hilarious observations on publishing, child-rearing, parent-losing, and the writing life. But as time goes by, we witness something far beyond the incidental: a moving, thoughtful meditation on years well lived, well read, and well spent. Full of mistakes, perhaps. But full of effort, full of accomplishment, full of life.
About the Author
Janet Groth, Emeritus Professor of English at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, has also taught at Vassar, Brooklyn College, the University of Cincinnati, and Columbia. She was a Fulbright lecturer in Norway and a visiting fellow at Yale and is the author of Edmund Wilson: A Critic for Our Time (for which she won the NEMLA Book Award) and coauthor of Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. She lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
No Television; Vitalis 1
Regional Qualities; The New Sir 31
The Drudge; Alex Trebeks Constitution 63
Isnt This Scientific?; The Sugar 147
The Great Temporariness; Crème Brûlée 191