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My Mistake

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  287 ratings  ·  65 reviews
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 po ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 19th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2013)
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Stuart
Memoirs in the US tend to be of three flavors nowadays. There is this flavor: I'm a self-destructive member of the hoi polloi; I've been a (take your pick) addict, criminal, abuser of a sibling/spouse/parent, but I have overcome my flaws; come read about my pain and recovery. There is this flavor: I've been horribly treated as a (take your pick) child of war, victim of child abuse, child of poverty, adult abused by someone I loved, employee of a bad company, citizen of a bad government, but I’ve ...more
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
I never tire of reading books about the experience of working at The New Yorker during its golden hey-day. I especially enjoy anecdotes about the notoriously fussy and famous New Yorker editor William Shawn and this book has plenty of those, plus many sweet stories about working with the esteemed novelist and beloved New Yorker fiction editor, William Maxwell.

Daniel Menaker worked at The New Yorker for twenty-six years, first as a fact checker and then as an editor and edited many famous writer
...more
Margaret
Daniel Menaker's memoir covers everything from his early childhood to his career at The New Yorker and in the publishing world. Considering that Menaker was an editor for a large portion of his career, I was surprised to find that the book seemed to need some editing itself. The voice was somewhat erratic, almost devolving into a stream of consciousness near the end, which made me feel as if he was on strong painkillers and wasn't entirely lucid; I didn't get much out of the discussions of his e ...more
Dave Beck
I adored this thin, rich volume by the former New Yorker editor. Daniel Menaker is captain of his own iceberg, understanding that our conscious navigation of life usually amounts to an after-the-fact process of trying to make sense of where we just drifted. As an editor he was (and still is) near the epicenter of several cultural earthquakes, and the people he loves, you will fall in love with as well: The mentor, William Maxwell; the scribe, Alice Munro. This is memoir not autobiography, and th ...more
Schuyler Wallace
Daniel Menaker reveals the literary scene with all its complexity and backbiting appeal in his memoir MY MISTAKE. He introduces us to an environment that writers long for and find so difficult to crack. It’s a witty, intricate journey filled with Menaker’s puckish outlook and steely insight.

Make no mistake. Menaker is a proud, unapologetic insider, but he is willing to share his insight about the guts of the industry while pointing out the indomitable hurdles to getting published. I was flabberg
...more
Liz Waters
“My Mistake” by Daniel Menaker is an interesting book. It destroyed any illusions I had about ever having my fiction published. That was probably the last dream I had left, and Mr. Menaker took care of that. While I have often noticed that the new stars in Hollywood are often related to the old stars in Hollywood, I surely should have assumed that such connectivity applied also to the publishing world of New York. That I did not was my mistake.

Daniel Menaker was born into the erudite and exclus
...more
Judith Shadford
A Christmas gift from my daughter, she could hardly have found a more precisely delightful memoir. Years with the New Yorker, then Random House, then HarperCollins. All the gossip, the vagaries of publishing in New York. And his home life. Broken into years of his life, we get elementary school and the death of his brother, the flavor of homelife and extended family. And because his writing is so clear, casual, unaffected--the range of emotional response is immediate. Laugh out loud, oh yes, the ...more
W. Whalin
The ways of publishing are somewhat shrouded with mystery. How does the magazine staff of The New Yorker put together their publication every week? You will gain some insights reading MY MISTAKE.

I loved the pointed storytelling about how the inside of a magazine works and I enjoyed Daniel Menaker's stories about the publishing world and his life of commitment to the power of the printed page. I found some of the early chapters somewhat boring so I rated the book four stars instead of five.

Yet th
...more
Steve
I actually read Menaker's "The Old Left" way back when it was published (one of the few, I assume), and so this memoir interested me.

In his 70's and battling lung cancer, he decides to tell bits and pieces of the story of his life. And what a life in publishing it has been! My favorite parts were his tales of under appreciated writer (and his boss at the NY'er as Fiction Editor) William Maxwell. If you haven't read him yet, you should - especially if you are from the Midwest. The other part I e
...more
Grady McCallie
This is an enjoyable memoir by a man who had a successful career as an editor at the New Yorker magazine and then as a book publisher. It offers a compelling window on a subculture - social and regional - that has set a guiding tone for American intellectuals for decades. That said, it really is a memoir - the broader feel for Menaker's time and place have to be drawn from his account; he's not trying to provide a guided tour.

Part of the appeal of the book is its humility - not that Menaker him
...more
Elizabeth
This is a well-written intelligent memoir by a man I wished lived next door to me. Daniel Menaker was the fiction editor of the New Yorker for years (under Shawn and Tina Brown) as well as an editor for Random House and Harper. It was debating whether to give it 3 stars or 4 only because it is a very inside publishing book. I was particularly amused by his being taught how to do a profit and loss statement on a book--it you can't make money on 10,000 copies, say you'll sell 20,0000! All my publi ...more
Deborah
Fluid writing and a some great stories. However, there may have been too many stories, and, in a thin volume, they became too cursory.

While the underlying them may have been Mr. Menaker's coming to grips with his brother's death many years previously, it surfaced off and on through the book, diluting its meaning.

The descriptions of the cast of characters at the New Yorker Magazine and of his 26 years there (as editor, writer, fiction editor) were wonderful. I've read other books about the magazi
...more
Gregory Knapp
[Disclosure: I have never met Dan Menaker but we worked together for six months or so on a project (inexplicably left out of the book!) that was based in NYC where he was, and into which I “telecommuted” from Chicago where I live. We have corresponded warmly by email from time to time since then and I think he’s a nice man.]

This is an entertaining, serious, and well-written book. Reading it, one feels that it is honest.

It is startling how many serious topics — childhood abandonment; the death of
...more
Kerry
I would have liked this book to have been more focused--a memoir about the publishing industry--because herein lies the meat of the story. It's a world that has either disappeared or drastically changed or is only entered by the absolute elite. In that way, the book shows us how publishing has evolved (devolved?) and what the reality used to be (or what it still is for the select and lucky few). So what that the personalities were colorful in sometimes hideous and childish ways, with more than o ...more
Susan Merrell
My Mistake. Was in not reading Daniel Menaker's My Mistake until today. Sat down at 10 in the morning to start it, just read the last beautiful page. I am worried about what punctuation to use, and know he will deride my grammar, but the book is just delicious.
Diane Barnes
I'm not going to star this one at all, since I could tell by p40 that his writing style was not my cup of tea. I also didn't get his humor. Not spending amy more time on this one.
Mark Pothier
I loved "The Treatment," and was again laughing out loud when the "therapist" reappears here, in this deeply engaging memoir. Menaker's not a warm-sounding man, but he also seems to know that, and reading his memories, I felt the sort of dispassion I feel when discussing myself with myself, from a distance: you're there and keenly interested but with your judgement intact, and ready for jokes. It's an honest memoir, in other words. The final paragraph of his introduction is a very fine call to a ...more
Caren
I like reading memoirs. I like that a memoir is not necessarily fact-driven, but is the perception of a life from the author's point of view. Reading a memoir is a bit like being allowed to live another life for awhile. For Mr. Menaker, that life has been lived in the New York world of magazine and book publishing. As an avid reader of literary magazines and books, it was interesting for me to glimpse the world behind the product in my hands. It was also a great delight to read a book by someone ...more
Kit Fox
I don't read The New Yorker, but I do enjoy reading about it. Cute anecdotes and insights about working in New York publishing from the '60s on up; nice if you're geeky about stuff like that. Has lots of asides along the lines of the author getting into an elevator with a wizened and super famous "New York literary celebrity person of note," being super nervous, stammering something along the lines of "Um...nice weather we're having?" riding the elevator in complete silence, and then having said ...more
Michael Stewart
The second memoir in a couple of weeks: MY MISTAKE is as engaging as ELSEWHERE, but has a more serious tone. Within the first few pages, we discover that the writer lost a brother when much younger, and that this memoir will wind its way to a diagnosis of cancer. BUT, the core of the book is about his long career at THE NEW YORKER magazine. It is that part that interested me most. Well written, of course - after all, he was a NEW YORKER editor and an accomplished author of several books. Recomme ...more
Kathy Kiernan
A likable memoir from a lovable and somewhat mischievous mensch who spent almost his entire career in magazine and book publishing. The excerpt that appeared in New York magazine features all the "juicy" material about book publishing, so I was slightly disappointed not to learn more by reading the book. Someone should write about the wonderful, decades-long friendship between Menaker and his New Yorker colleague Charles McGrath, who later became the editor of the New York Times Book Review, whi ...more
Evelyn
A child at heart, Daniel Menaker provides us with a heartfelt, moody, and delightful memoir of his life as a literary enthusiast. Beginning at The New Yorker as a fact checker, he rises to become a respected Acquiring Editor of the 1980s-2000s; he works at publishing houses such as Random House and Harper Collins and edits pieces from high-profile authors. He goes through triumph and embarrassment, loathing and desire, and ultimately comes through the tunnel with a hint of laughter and a lot of ...more
Ellen
Daniel Manaker was a long-time fiction editor at the New Yorker, then a fiction editor at several well-known houses. In this humorous and low-key memoir, I learned a lot about the delights and dreads of fiction editing and the somewhat dysfunctional milieu of the New Yorker offices. Manaker has a self-effacing manner which is very appealing. he has recently endured two bouts of lung cancer, giving this book a poignancy it might not otherwise have. It was an enjoyable read. (less) [edit]
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Kandace
Synopsis
A witty and touching look at the life and career of The New Yorker editor, magazine writer, and book publisher Daniel Menaker.

High Points
The personal stories from Menaker’s childhood are funny and honest. A call back to America’s golden years.

Low Points
The subheading. While it is nice to have an idea of how old Menaker was when his brother died or when he started at The New Yorker, it is sometimes confusing and a bit distracting at times.

You’ll love it if…
You are a logophile. Menaker dr
...more
Peggy
Daniel Menaker made a mistake which he feels caused his beloved brother to die. Daniel Menaker works for the New Yorker checking for mistakes. After awhile I got bored with the "name dropping" of titles of literature, and supposedly important people in the publishing and collegiate world. It just went on too long. If some of that were left out the book would have moved faster and bee more enjoyable, because it was a good story.
Pamela
Compulsively enjoyable. I very much like the form Menaker has found for this memoir. He proceeds by ages ("two and a half," "seventeen to twenty-one," etc.), which might seem lazy, but which allows him to fashion brief sections focusing on events chosen for psychological or poetic resonance. I'm one of those people who loves reading about The New Yorker and about book publishing, as long as it's not in too much detail, and Menaker (at The New Yorker for a quarter century and in book publishing f ...more
A
Menaker (or his memoir voice, at least) is exceedingly charming, wry, and engaging. He has led an extremely privileged life but he's so self-effacing and witty about it you come to not mind. (Those who are less enamored of him might claim he was burying the lede a bit about that privilege. I mean he only mentions as an aside that he got his prestigious job that he held for 26 years by having his cousin call in a favor.) For me, though, reading this book felt like being on a really really great f ...more
Allyson
I really enjoyed the reading of this book with his engaging and fast moving writing. Of course his years at The New Yorker were fascinating reading but he presents his life in a very singular and interesting fashion with a great sense of humor despite many harsh twists of fate. I wish it were longer.
Michael
Great insights into the publishing business, and some wonderful writing about the transitory nature of life after the author has been diagnosed with recurrent lung cancer. Pages 147 to 187 reveal all you ever wanted to know about publishing--and it's frequently not a pretty sight.

Enjoyed this one, and would certainly read it again in moments of musing about life.
Chris Cooper
Some good moments in the disjointed memoir. The time at the New Yorker and the end feel rushed and a bit inauthentic. Best when talking about childhood. If I were his kid, I would love this book. Otherwise it's so-so.
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DANIEL MENAKER began his career as a fact checker at The New Yorker, where he became an editor and worked for twenty-six years. A former book editor, Menaker is the author of six books; he has written for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Parents, Redbook, and many others.
More about Daniel Menaker...
A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation The Treatment The Old Left and Other Stories Friends and relations: A collection of stories Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor

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“Publishing, I learn later, is a little like the garment industry: You have to be geographically well placed, in New York, for schmoozing convenience.” 0 likes
“How much did I miss, out of haste, intensity, and anger? How much would I come to wish that I had learned about a quieter kind of effort and persistence earlier on, about winning for myself instead of proving myself to, or against, others?” 0 likes
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