Daniel Menaker spoke at the Westport Library recently. He read from his memoir My Mistake. Unlike some other author readings, every excerpt he shared was both interesting and entertaining. Menaker is charming.
His book takes the reader chronologically through his life in short episodes (just over 200 pages total) starting with his birth and continuing to the almost present. The heart of the book is the unexpected death of his older brother when they were young adults. Menaker places heavy guilt on himself for a momentary act that no one else would ever blame. His gradual, but never complete, self-forgiveness threads through the rest of his book, a fragile strand in each significant event.
I’m certain that my reading enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that Menaker and I share a birth year. High school and college stories, as well as locations (NY, PA, MD), also trod common ground. That said, my keen interest in his years at the New Yorker and at Random House arose out of my years at the Library selecting books to buy and booking authors to appear. My fascination with books, writing, and grammar was satisfied by stories of his editing disputes and compromises, as well as his interaction with authors and agents and his accommodation of publishing industry demands. (Lots of insider stories for fans of the publishing business.)
There is much snarky humor in these stories; it’s a style of coping that has dominated our culture in my lifetime and one that has lost a lot of its appeal for me. In spite of that, I relished Menaker’s intellectual sharpness and his precise writing about his personal life and literary career. And he seems like a really good guy!