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Tabula Rasa: Volume 1 by John McPhee
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Tabula Rasa: Volume 1 (edition 2023)

by John McPhee (Author)

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682376,970 (4)2
Over seven decades, John McPhee has set a standard for literary nonfiction. Assaying mountain ranges, bark canoes, experimental aircraft, the Swiss Army, geophysical hot spots, ocean shipping, shad fishing, and dissident art in the Soviet Union, among myriad other subjects, he has consistently written narrative pieces of immaculate design. In Tabula Rasa, McPhee looks back at his career from the vantage point of his desk drawer, reflecting wryly upon projects he began but never completed or published. Collected and augmented, these pieces form a ‚??reminiscent montage‚?Ě of a writing life. This volume includes, among other things, a frosty encounter with Thornton Wilder, interrogative dinners with Henry Luce, glimpses of the allure of western Spain, fireworks over the East River as seen from Malcolm Forbes‚??s yacht, the evolving inclinations of the Tower of Pisa, the islands in the river delta of central California, teaching in a pandemic, and persuading The New Yorker to publish an entire book on oranges. The result is a fresh survey of McPhee‚??s sing… (more)
Member:CarrieCA
Title:Tabula Rasa: Volume 1
Authors:John McPhee (Author)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2023), 192 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tabula Rasa: Volume 1 by John McPhee

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I love John McPhee's work and this little book is a big treat. This is a collection of short pieces based on McPhee's notebooks. Ideas he had but never wrote. It's his "old person project", an "old person's project" being a project taken up in old age to prevent death. Parts are very funny. As you read, be aware of how precise and beautiful the writing is. ( )
  Dokfintong | Oct 25, 2023 |
John McPhee has long been one of my journalism idols. He was writing for Time, unbeknownst to me, when I was in high school and moved to The New Yorker in 1963, when I was in college. All his writing is funneled through The New Yorker, and much of it has been republished in book form. He's authored 31 books, all still in print I believe.

[Tabula Rasa, Volume 1] published this year (2023), is a review of many article ideas he's considered in his 50-year career. Things he intended to research and write, but failed to follow through on. It is a potpourri, and at least for me, was entertaining throughout.

When I was in my prime, I planned to write about a dairy farm in Indiana with twenty-five thousand cows. Now, taking my cue from George Bush, Thornton Wilder, and countless others who stayed hale doing old-person projects I am writing about not writing about the dairy farm with twenty-five thousand cows...I decided to describe many such saved-up, bypassed, intended pieces of writing as an old-man project of my own. [McPhee is 92.]

The book is not entirely an account of pieces that died aborning. For example, Princeton is never far from his mind. McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, attended public school there, and rolled directly into Princeton University, where his father was physician to all the sports teams. He has a short piece about being, right out of high school, a night watchman at the site of the Institute of Advanced Studies (think Einstein. Oppenheimer. Von Neumann.) He has memories of faculty like Joe Brown, a former boxer, coach of the college's boxing team, and a sculptor; an adolescent McPhee took advantage of an unlockable window to sneak into the sculpture studio to swipe modeling clay. Then he got caught.

Of course, his subjects include fishing, walking, geology. He comments on Woodrow Wilson's belated fall from grace as his racism emerged.

First rate from front to back.
  weird_O | Oct 6, 2023 |
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Over seven decades, John McPhee has set a standard for literary nonfiction. Assaying mountain ranges, bark canoes, experimental aircraft, the Swiss Army, geophysical hot spots, ocean shipping, shad fishing, and dissident art in the Soviet Union, among myriad other subjects, he has consistently written narrative pieces of immaculate design. In Tabula Rasa, McPhee looks back at his career from the vantage point of his desk drawer, reflecting wryly upon projects he began but never completed or published. Collected and augmented, these pieces form a ‚??reminiscent montage‚?Ě of a writing life. This volume includes, among other things, a frosty encounter with Thornton Wilder, interrogative dinners with Henry Luce, glimpses of the allure of western Spain, fireworks over the East River as seen from Malcolm Forbes‚??s yacht, the evolving inclinations of the Tower of Pisa, the islands in the river delta of central California, teaching in a pandemic, and persuading The New Yorker to publish an entire book on oranges. The result is a fresh survey of McPhee‚??s sing

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