Every reviewer, it seems, has used the publication of John McPhee's latest collection, "Silk Parachute," to praise his mastery of nonfiction. Jonathan Kirsch heaps plenty of praise too, but his piece broadens into a paean to fact-checking and, in particular, to former New Yorker editor Sara Lippincott, who lives here in L.A. Excerpt:
For purely personal reasons, my favorite piece in the collection is “Checkpoints,” which features one of my personal heroes...
I was among the many grateful reviewers who worked with Sara when she was an editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and I still see her at meetings of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at USC. The piece focuses on the New Yorker’s legendary fact-checking process and Sara’s role in making sure that the authoritative tone of McPhee’s writing was well-deserved. The thought kept occurring to me that “Checkpoints” ought to be required reading for anyone who contributes to Wikipedia, if only because Sara announces what ought to be an article of faith for authors and journalists.
“Each word in the piece that has even a shred of fact clinging to it,” she is quoted as saying, “is scrutinized.” And she explains why it matters: “Once an error gets into print it ‘will live on and on in libraries, carefully catalogued, scrupulously indexed [and] silicon-chipped, deceiving researcher after researcher down through the ages, all of whom will make new errors on the strength of the original errors, and so on and on into an exponential explosion of errata.’”
Nicely said. Among the books that McPhee's New Yorker pieces grew into is Assembling California, which should be devoured by any serious student of the state, and The Control of Nature, which has a section called "Los Angeles Against the Mountains" that sets the stage for our earthquakes, brush fires and mud flows.
- Steve Wasserman, also a mainstay of the L.A. Institute for the Humanities, writes at Truthdig on the fate of books after the age of print.
- The L.A. Times had a piece over the weekend on the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood (though mistakenly said the Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood had closed.
- Pasadena author Greg Critser calls his latest book, "Eternity Soup: Inside the Quest to End Aging," the third in "my American pathology trilogy," after his books on obesity and prescription drugs.
- Carolyn Kellogg on the changing reality of the author book tour.
- In honor of the Oscars, the Daily Beast's not especially inspired list of the best books about Hollywood.
Photo of John McPhee: Peter Cook