Tag Archives: essays

The essay as reality television

From New Republic, an article on “the new essayists, or the decline of a form?”

With thoughts on these:

My Heart is an Idiot: Essays, by Davy Rothbart. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 307 pp., $25

I was Told There’d Be Cake: Essays, by Sloane Crosley. Henry Holt, 306 pp., $25

Pulphead: Essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 369 pp., $16

How Should a Person Be? A Novel from Life, by Sheila Heti. Riverhead, 230 pp., $15

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On Essays

From The Browser—Five Book Interviews—Alain de Botton, on Essays:

“Essays are about brevity and also personality, a feeling that you’re being taken on an intellectual or emotional journey by a particular person who you get to know along the way. Essays root ideas in personal experience”

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Manageable Discontents ‘Farther Away,’ Essays by Jonathan Franzen

From The New York Times Sunday Book Review. The opening paragraph:

As we should all know by now, Jonathan Franzen is a serious writer who plays for the highest literary stakes, who is uncomfortable with American TV consumerism, and whose last two novels, “The Corrections” and “Freedom,” have legitimately catapulted him to the front ranks of American fiction. Less known is that he has also published three nonfiction books, “How to Be Alone” (essays), “The Discomfort Zone” (a short memoir) and, now, a second essay collection, “Farther Away.”

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AUDIO: Flannery O’Connor reads “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

From Melville House (Hat tip: Frank Wilson) And I loved this added thought at the link:

And here, O’Connor reads her 1960 essay “Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,” in which she says, “I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

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Adam Gopnik on Favourite Essay Collections

From FiveBook Interviews at The Browser,

What makes a great essayist? What had it, who didn’t? And whose work left the biggest mark on the New Yorker? A longtime writer for the magazine picks out five masters of the craft.

On the heals of yesterday’s post referencing the great essayist, Montagne, the link covers some more modern folks skilled at the craft.

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James M. Cain’s ‘Paradise’ is prescient

From the Los Angeles Times. In the 1930s, Cain wrote an essay about Southern California, another look at a “cynical landscape where hope was often just another con.”

Here’s the striking thing about James M. Cain’s essay “Paradise,” originally published in the American Mercury in March 1933: Even then, before many of the prevailing tropes about Los Angeles had yet to assert themselves, we were already looking at the place through a mythic filter, one Cain sets out to undermine. You can see it in that fantastic opening sequence, with its intention to wash out all the preconceptions that have emerged from “Sunkist ads, newsreels, movie magazines, railroad folders, and so on.” You can see it in the deftly rendered metaphor by which Cain reframes Southern California as a kind of watercolor, because it “blurs here and there, and lacks a very clear outline.”

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Montaigne’s “Solitarium”

From Today in Literature, one of my favorites:

On this day in 1592 Michel de Montaigne died. Montaigne came from a patrician Bordeaux family, one which obligated him to many political responsibilities, but in his late thirties he retreated to the tower rooms of the family estate to write the first two books of his Essays. When these were published in 1580 — a third volume was published in 1588 — they introduced a new literary genre to European letters.

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On Montaigne

How to Live: or, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell is not really a “self-help” book…or perhaps it is. See the review found at 3Quarks Daily. An exceprt:

In fact, Bakewell’s book is so sincerely engaged with the question of how best to muddle through life that it takes a chapter or two to remember that what you’re actually reading is a biography of the great French essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. And no sooner do you get your mind around this fact than you realize that there’s more. How to Live not only tells the story of Montaigne, the man; it also tells the story of (in Bakewell’s wonderful phrase), “Montaigne, the long party.” For more than four centuries, readers have crowded into the capacious chambers of the Essays to listen, laugh, think, thrill to, and argue with one of the greatest minds in history. It is that conversation, as much as the man who started it, that How to Live animates and explains. In sum, this book, like its subject, is expansive, genre-defying, and preposterously smart.:


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