The New Yorker, and an apology to Canadians

The New Yorker is my favourite publication. That is not an empty statement: I have consistently subscribed for over a decade. It is the only magazine that I routinely read from cover to cover. I've always dreamed of writing for it (though not done much to make that happen). I wrote a piece for the online site, but I still aspire to appearing in the print publication.


I don't know if it's a new thing at the New Yorker, but they now run essays that are not book reviews as such, but which take a book or a few books and incorporate them into an essay. I saw this done to my friend Lisa Margonelli's book Underbug, on termites, and also to Marina Benjamin's book Insomnia. A while ago my publisher told me the New Yorker had asked for more copies of Nine Pints. More copies! She was hopeful this meant a review or a sizeable piece. She was hopeful; I was nervous. I trained as a fact-checker and I know the New Yorker has a formidable fact-checking department. Formidable in the same way that my fact-checking was formidable: phone calls to establish whether someone's house was painted white or red; whether someone really did meet someone else in a particular coffee shop at a particular time; just how far the union headquarters is from the train station, exactly. Exactly. Proper fact-checking. However, although I trained as a fact-checker, and I venerate the art and skill of fact-checking as much as I venerate truthfulness -- I have no idea what a non-fiction novel consists of and I don't want to know -- I have never managed to have enough money left by the end of my book research to pay for one. So I do it myself. I try to do it as well as I was trained to do: I go through the manuscript and underline everything I think needs checking, and I check it and I check it again. The manuscript is seen by dozens of people too along the months-long editing process. This picks up typos and very obvious errors. But although I worked very hard at getting everything watertight, I didn't.


So this is my apology to Canadians. Not only because I placed Moncton in New Hampshire, not New Brunswick. Nor because I called the New Democratic Party the National Democratic Party. But also because, although I have spent time in Calgary and know it well -- and certainly enough that I know it is a city not a province -- I wrote this sentence: "He grew up in a small town in Calgary."


I hope that was simply a case of the wrong preposition, but even so: I'm sorry, Canada. I'm sorry that there is even one mistake in the book. There shouldn't be, although it is extremely dense with facts. The reader who wrote in with those errors said, rightly, that one error makes you doubt the rest of the facts.


They will be fixed.


And the New Yorker? It published a beautiful essay by Dr Jerome Groopman which used my book as a diving board to a comprehensive and informative (I learned stuff) exploration of blood. I'm especially pleased because Dr Groopman is a haematologist. And because I have finally seen my name in the New Yorker.


Also, I love this illustration by Max Guther, whose website is here.







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