David Adams at The Millions:
On the phone from his home in Princeton, N.J., on an unseasonably warm day in April, McPhee stresses that Tabula Rasa, which gathers the 92-year-old New Yorker writer’s reflections on projects he once contemplated but never wrote, is not an autobiography. It was, however, done according to Twain’s instructions for “how someone ought to do an autobiography—in a totally random miscellaneous way.” McPhee continues, “Twain’s point is just to jump in anywhere, anywhere at all, and start talking. And if something distracts you, if it seems more interesting, leave the first thing, and go to the second or the third. You can always go back to the first thing next week.”
Legions of McPhee fans will need a moment to pick themselves up off the floor. Anyone who’s cracked the spine of 2017’s Draft No. 4, an immersive blend of writerly advice and career retrospective that sets down lessons McPhee has been teaching at Princeton University since the 1970s, will recall the intricate diagrams of his New Yorker essays, and the arduous process by which he arrived at their elegant structures.