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My Mistake

3.55  ·  Rating Details  ·  416 Ratings  ·  92 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 wordsDaniel 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 pos ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 19th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2013)
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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
Feb 12, 2015 eb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nearly everything you read, fiction, memoir, whatever, is full of small lies about the way people behave and the way the world works. There isn't a dishonest sentence in this book, which is the highest praise I can think of. Also missing: cant phrases, cliches, windiness, self-aggrandizement, bulk. The book combines brave and juicy truth-telling about the New Yorker and the publishing industry (the part about putting together a P&L made me wince in its accuracy) with personal history, and th ...more
Dave Beck
Jan 25, 2014 Dave Beck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 11, 2016 Sheri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Meh. I am not sure how this got on my to-reads, but I really wasn't enamored (I've also had a crazy busy week otherwise and took way too long to read it. As far as memoirs go, Menaker is not really all that interesting. I mean, I love literature and I followed most of his name drops (and I understand why The New Yorker is important), but there was no real story here.

He doesn't get personal EVER (I mean his wife is mentioned may 4 times in the whole book and his kids in passing), which would be
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
W. Whalin
Jan 01, 2014 W. Whalin rated it really liked it
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
Gregory Knapp
Feb 12, 2014 Gregory Knapp rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
[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
Liz Waters
Oct 26, 2013 Liz Waters rated it really liked it
“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
Judith Shadford
Mar 07, 2014 Judith Shadford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 12, 2015 Iva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First, the ideal reader must be a fan of the New Yorker. Second, he or she must be a fan of memoirs. Menaker's New Yorker anecdotes are fresh and entertaining. He weaves his own climb through the publishing houses and back to the New Yorker with readable prose. Menaker is connected as an insider and he shares memories of working with such luminaries as William Maxwell and Alice Munro. For those interested in publishing--past and present--this book will be gobbled up.
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
Susan Merrell
Apr 03, 2014 Susan Merrell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 02, 2015 Scribd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: friday-reads
What a title for a memoir. Dan Menaker is in great company in framing his life around his “mistakes,” but I didn’t realize it until he used the word “errata” in one of the early chapters. That open reference to the conceit—and the nod to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin—adds a more complex layer of ironic self-deprecation. It’s hard not to recognize the trick of adopting exaggerated humility in a thinly veiled effort to cast successes in all the more flattering light, as Franklin did. But ...more
Natalie Williams
Who knew the publishing industry was so crazy? It's a wonder any books ever get published at all! That said, Mr. Menaker not only writes here about the life of an editor, but about life in general and what he has to say resonates with the honesty in everyone. I love what he says on page 201 about mourners missing their dead; he paints the subject in perfect color and contrast:

"The world, with all its impossible variegation and the basic miracle of its existence, draws most mourners out of their
Oct 31, 2014 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Grady McCallie
Aug 30, 2014 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 14, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 12, 2016 Lizzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, read-in-2016
He worked for the NYer for years and later was in publishing. He has a wry sense of humor and I like how the book blends him talking about his family history and some tragedy and insights into himself with descriptions of work and the interesting people he worked with. He confirms that Shawn was an asshole and that William Maxwell was wonderful (I'd have cried if the latter wasn't true - So Long, See You Tomorrow is one of my favorite books.)
Jul 18, 2016 Darren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll read any memoir or history about the New Yorker, so I'm glad I randomly stumbled across this one. No surprise, considering Menaker is a skilled editor, that it's wonderfully crafted.
Mark Pothier
Dec 04, 2014 Mark Pothier rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Stephenie Kang
Jul 24, 2016 Stephenie Kang rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This review is also on my blog right here.

Okay, let me just get one thing straight: Menaker is hilarious.

He’s funny, not in just an obligatory “heheh,” I-acknowledge-your-intelligence-and-I-see-what-you’re-trying-to-do-there-but-it-just-didn’t-hit-my-funny-bone-right way, but in a I’m-genuinely-laughing-and-leaning-over-to-the-person-sitting-next-to-me-to-read-this-outloud sort of way. Okay, that sentence was very forced, I admit it, but that’s besides the point.

This may be old news to everyb
Jun 15, 2014 Deborah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 20, 2014 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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]
Aug 23, 2015 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
This deserves 4.5 stars. I borrowed it from the library, but wish I had bought it, because I kept wanting to write marginal notes, highlight clever, funny things. Reading it was like being privileged to get to know someone a little older and a little (or quite a lot) smarter than you, who is willing to open up and tell you the things about life people don't usually acknowledge. You learn stuff, but more importantly, you get to know a person who is worth knowing.
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
Jan 19, 2014 Caren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
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
Feb 03, 2014 Kit Fox rated it liked it
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
Daniel Menaker talks about his life, his upbringing, his time in college, and mostly his experiences working at the New Yorker. Its an interesting story to read if you want insight into a writer's life and the craziness that is the staff at the New Yorker. Menaker also talks about the death of his brother (which he blames himself for in part), which was also an interesting story that gets at some universal truths about death and loss.

Overall, a well-written, relatively quick read, if you're cur
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
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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.
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“The world, with all its impossible variegation and the basic miracle of its existence, draws most mourners out of their grief and back into itself. The homosexual forsythia blooms; the young Irish dancers in Killarney dance, their arms as rigid as shovel handles; secret deals are done involving weapons or office space or crude oil or used cars or drugs; new lovers, believing they will never really have to get up, lie down together; the Large Hadron Collider smashes the Higgs boson into view; snow drapes its white stoles on the bare limbs of winter; the crack of the bat swung by a hefty Dominican pulls a crowd to its feet in Boston; bricks for the new hospital in Phnom Penh are laid in true courses; the single-engine Cessna lands safely in an Ohio alfalfa field during a storm. How can you resist? The true loss in only to the dying, and even the won't feel it when the dying's done.” 0 likes
“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
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