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Silk Parachute Paperback – March 1, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This is not a new McPhee reader, though surely a third such volume is merited, but rather a collection of the best of his funny and affecting personal essays, works that offer glimpses of McPhee as a willful, curious boy; a nervous rookie New Yorker staff writer; and a bemused and proud father and grandfather. The stellar title essay is a glorious curveball homage to his mother. McPhee also writes of canoeing and lacrosse. Does eating “eccentric food” count as an athletic endeavor? It does when McPhee lives off the land with Euell Gibbons. And certainly fact-checking as practiced at the New Yorker (the home for earlier versions of these delectable pieces), and described in “Checkpoints,” qualifies as the literary equivalent of an Olympic sport. “Season on the Chalk” is a quintessential McPhee essay––he is a game-changing master of the form––in which the roll and pitch of his sentences embody the topography of Europe’s strange and fabled chalk country. Whatever his subject, McPhee’s virtuoso and deeply engaging essays convey the profound pleasure of attending to the world. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“We marvel at the pains [McPhee] takes with structure, approaching his subject from oblique angles, slowly building tension, sometimes seeming to wander, but always propelling his narratives forward . . . In the age of blogging and tweeting, of writers' near-constant self-promotion, McPhee is an imperative counterweight, a paragon of both sense and civility.” ―Elizabeth Royte, The New York Times Book Review

“Reading McPhee's lucid descriptions of [lacrosse], with its lightning pace and nuanced skill levels, one wonders why Americans spend so much time watching football . . . We're fortunate McPhee has written as much--and as well--as he has. For readers who have always wanted a more personal glimpse, Silk Parachute should be floating your way.” ―Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times

“How long the McPhee tradition will endure is anyone's guess. But for now we have Silk Parachute, a testament to a kind of literary journalism that will, with any luck, have both its standards and its standard-bearer around for years to come.” ―Danny Heitman, The Christian Science Monitor

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374532621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374532628
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James D. DeWitt VINE VOICE on July 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
John McPhee, in my opinion, has for some 25 years been America's greatest non-fiction writer. Whether it has been his epic, four volume series of geology, or esoterica like The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, or his best work, Coming into the Country, McPhee writes on an extraordinary range of subjects by finding and writing about the amazing people he has encountered, who give us insights into the subjects McPhee has selected.

But not this time. This time the personality is John McPhee, writing about things that have happened to him. Whether it is the delightful title essay, "Silk Parachute," which is worth the price of the book itself, or his lyrical exploration of The Chalk, from England and through France, for the most part these are stories about McPhee, or jokes McPhee tells on himself. And, just occasionally, a glimpse of a truly extraordinary writer, doing what he does best.

I own every published book from McPhee. I have read and re-read them all. This small collection ranks in the top 10%. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The best McPhee yet. Some of his work is now assuming the role of a retrospective, which creates a sort of poignancy that adds flavor all its own. He has gotten even more meticulous, but now you expect his dottering over small details that would likely never be chased down even if they were wrong--and they make you smile, because there is so much careless trash out there. He has taken the talent of approaching a topic from its blind side to new levels. There will never be anyone better at creating a piece that you know you can trust, but enjoy at the same time. I read "The Monument's Men" right before this one. I discovered that McPhee brought out an interesting fact in one paragraph that had been completely overwritten and muddied in the 800 page MM book, which was well researched but poorly written. McPhee has a way of going for the heart of the matter, but from an unexpected approach. I hope he lives forever, and has a sharp mind when he's a hundred.
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Format: Paperback
This collection is notable primarily for the way McPhee takes us behind the curtain and reveals more of himself and his process than we usually get to see.

It's a little uneven, quite frankly; his extensive treatise on the game of lacrosse goes on way too long for my taste. McPhee has a knack for finding interesting story points in tiny details; in this particular piece, we find an astonishing ability to cite statistics but only a handful of those stats really move the story along.

But there are also real gems - including the two short essays that open and close the book ("Silk Parachute" and "Nowheres," respectively). They're among the most lyrical and economical pieces of McPhee that I've read.

"Under the Cloth" gives us a look at an unusual collaboration between two large-format photographers, one of whom happens to be McPhee's daughter. It's a knockout, both for the way this working relationship is described, and as a glimpse into McPhee's own life. "Rip Van Golfer" presents us with McPhee as a stranger in a strange land: as a non-sports journalist covering the US Open golf tournament. It's highly entertaining. And we get some fascinating understanding of the editorial machine that is The New Yorker.

I feel I know way more about my favorite living writer than he has ever shown before. And something else that's a treat: McPhee's writing has long been witty, but some of these essays contain stuff that's laugh-out-loud funny. This book is probably a better choice for a confirmed McPhee fan than for someone just discovering him, but I'm really glad this one is in my library. I WILL read it again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a great fan of McPhee, reading him in "The New Yorker" and in book form since the '60s. This is my least favorite of his works. In many of these articles his personality shines through, usually he's kept it in the background, and he seems somewhat arrogant and precious. His article on his daughter's photography is a shameless plug for her that teaches us nothing, unlike his usual works. Would not recommend this.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In what may be Mr. McPhee's final book, we are treated to some insights that reveal the origins of some of his other writing. Thoughtful and well written as always, but likely most appreciated by those familiar with his work. While so many marvel at his ability to make otherwise mundane topics interesting, the quality of his writing and the simple ease of reading it never fail in any way. While it would be unfortunate for his readers, if this is his last, it is greatly appreciated.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Huge fan of McPhee so predisposed to like this. Especially enjoyed the title essay, "Silk Parachute," a memoir of McPhee's mother and his childhood that was at once both evocative, amusing and touching. Also got a kick out of "My Life List," a rumination on strange things that he's eaten. As a former editorial assistent and fact checker I loved "Checkpoints" which deals with fact checkers McPhee has worked with and his own attempt at fact checking himself, great stuff, I laughed out loud! Not a golfer so found "Rip van Golfer" a bit of a snooze. Remaining pieces were all enjoyed but it's been a month since I read this and they were less memorable. Recommended for all who enjoy McPhee who don't subscribe to the New Yorker where many, but not all, of these pieces were first published.
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