My first experience reading John McPhee was last month, when I devoured "The Curve of Binding Energy" and wondered what took me so long to discover him, so I was delighted to see his byline in the April 7 New Yorker on an essay titled "Elicitation." It's about reporting, note-taking, writing, getting it wrong and getting it right. Here are some choice lines that I have smuggled through the subscription wall:
Writing is selection. When you are making notes, you are forever selecting. I left out more than I put down. [...]
Who is going to care if you seem dumber than a cardboard box? Reporters call that creative bumbling.
On how much he prepares for an interview:
Candidly, not much. At a minimum, though, I think you should do enough preparation to be polite. [...]
I have no technique for asking questions. I just stay there and fade away as I watch people do what they do. [...]
Before, during and after an interview, or a series of interviews, do as much reading as the situation impels you to do. In the course of writing, you really find out what you don't know, and you read in an attempt to get it right. Nonetheless, you get it wrong, especially if you are an innumerate English major and you are writing about science.
I have not yet figured out why "The Curve of Binding Energy" works so well, or why its writing feels so fresh and bracing, but I suppose it's just a function of a man of letters creatively bumbling into a world of numbers, and being read by another English major.