The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the


The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present [EPUB] ✼ The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present Author Phillip Lopate – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk For more than four hundred years, the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms Distinguished from the  detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational For than four hundred years, the of the Kindle Ï personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms Distinguished from the  detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward candor and selfdisclosure, the personal essay seizes on the minutiae of daily lifevanities, fashions, foibles, oddballs, seasonal rituals, love The Art PDF \ and  disappointment, the pleasures of solitude, reading, taking a walkto offer insight into the human condition and the great social and political issues of the day The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre By presenting than seventyfive personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces Art of the ePUB ☆ from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the last four centuries, editor Phillip Lopate, himself an acclaimed essayist, displays the tradition of the personal essay in all its historical grandeur, depth, and diversity.

  • Paperback
  • 777 pages
  • The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
  • Phillip Lopate
  • English
  • 21 November 2018
  • 9780385423397

About the Author: Phillip Lopate

Phillip Lopate is the author of of the Kindle Ï of the PDF three personal essay collections, two novels, two poetry collections, a memoir of his teaching experiences, and a collection of his movie criticism He has edited the following anthologies, and his essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American The Art PDF \ Essays, The Paris The Art PDF or Review, Harper's, Vogue, E.



10 thoughts on “The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present

  1. Keertana Keertana says:

    I need to make a separate shelf for this book titled, kill-me-now, because really, the best way to offer someone a slow and painful death is to make them read this. I was forced to read this for class and write up summaries and analysis' for practically all the essays, in addition to taking a test and writing an essay on these essays for my classes, so I did not have fun reading this. It's boring, it's long, and 99.9% of the essays in this are boring. I guess if you like reading personal essays this might be your thing, but they're clearly not for me.

    Seneca, thank you for writing essays that were only two pages long.

    James Baldwin, thank you for writing an essay that, although was long, actually kept my attention!

    Joan Didion, thank you too for writing a short essay that was only three pages long.

    Michael Montaigne, you are hailed as the best personal essay writer ever, but I still have no idea what the purpose of your ramblings were. Seriously, that looong thing I read couldn't have been a coherent essay. No. Way.

    Richard Rodriguez, I'm sorry I never even bothered to read your essay because it was the last one. I'm also sorry I had to make up a really bad analysis for it because the internet didn't have much information on it. Curse you, Google! I bet Hermione would have had the answers I needed! >.<

    Phillip Lopate, the guy who had WAY too much time on his hands to compile all these BORING AS HELL essays and RUIN MY LIFE, you SUCK! If I ever meet you...well, let's just say your face won't be so pretty anymore and your family members will fail to recognize you. You might need a wheelchair afterwards too.

    I read this...anthology...and wished I could have seen insta-love between the pages. I dreamt about crappy love triangles, Mary Sues, lack of world-building, and terribly developed characters while reading this book because all that stuff is so much better than this anthology. If I could give this book 0.00000001 Stars, I would. In short, give this to your worst enemy or hand it out to criminals in the prison if you want them to die of insanity. Otherwise, RUN AWAY! I don't even think going to Antarctica can get me far enough away from this book. *starts running*

  2. Michael Michael says:

    So many great essays in this anthology that it would be worthy for that reason alone, but Lopate's organizational principles make this especially useful for the essayist in search of models, or for the reader who is chasing the many forms of a specific type of essay, or for anyone who enjoys reading personal nonfiction. I never fail to feel a buzz of anticipatory joy when I pick this volume up, and writing out this Goodreads note makes me realize that I really should dip back into this soon.

  3. Jessica Jessica says:

    My favorite essay in this thick, heavy, door-stopping book is a humble writing of G.K. Chesterton entitled A Piece of Chalk. I absolutely adore drawing with chalk and so of course I felt connected to him right off the bat. It was actually the first time I'd ever read Chesterton before, and I instantly fell in love. There is something in his writing that resonates with something inside me... in other words, it feels good. This anthology also includes other masters, both classic and modern such as Didion, Seneca, among many, many others. Despite the size, it's very easy to read through and find your own favorites thanks to the table that sorts the essays by theme.

  4. Nancy Nancy says:

    Lopate's introduction alone is worth the price of admission to this house of wonders. Anyone at all interested in writing essays must read it. As for the essays themselves, some are more riveting/amusing/touching than others. My favorites: Seneca on Asthma; Virginia Woolf on Street Haunting and Death of a Moth; George Orwell's hair-raising account of prep school English-style, Such, Such Were the Days; Richard Selzer's The Knife (don't read this if you have surgery scheduled); Didion's Goodbye to All That...Okay, I see I have a lot of favorites, most of them in the 20th century. The culmination is Lopate's own hilarious Against Joie de Vivre. The man is some kind of quirky genius at a genre that can't get no respect.

  5. Snickers Snickers says:

    This collection of essays warrants several readings. Phillip Lopate, a distinguished essayist and brother of Leonard Lopate, NPR commentator on New York City's WNYC, presents a sizable and articulate Introduction of what makes an essay 'personal'. He examines the process of crafting the personal essay by dedicating digestible segments under headings such as The Conversational Element, Honesty, Confession, and Privacy, and Questions of Form and Style. This book is as much of a resource as it is a compendium of powerful yet honest writing.

    I chose this book out of want to be better writer in craft but also as a learning tool on how to come closer to my questions and understandings of the human condition. I wanted to hone my ability to drop deeper into areas of myself and write skillfully of my thought process. Lopate brings together a wonderful survey of the long tradition in the genre of the personal essay starting from writers like Seneca and Sei Shinagon under the chapter heading Forerunners, onto Fountainhead with Montaigne, The Rise of the English Essay with works by Beerbohm, Chesterton, Woolf, and Orwell, Other Cultures, Other Continents by Tanizaki, Hsun, Borges, Fuentes, and finally with The American Scene by Thoreau, Vidal, Pemberton, Rodriguez, and Lopate himself. This is naming just a few of the many writers in this volume with several essays included for each writer. The table of contents also offers a way of finding essays according to to themes like Analytic Meditation, Letters (Epistolary Essay), and Portrait and Double Portrait. The book comes with an extensive bibliography broken up into Works About the Essay, Pertinant Books by Authors Featured in this Anthology, and Suggested Further Reading. This is a treasured tome where Lopate's dedication to continuing this genre's tradition comes through.

    Each essayist's collection also begins with a short description written by Lopate giving historical and societal context further elucidating the writer's style and nuances.

    I will be reading this collection again and again.

  6. Rachel Rachel says:

    As I have been working on some of my own personal essays from my travels in India, this was like my Bible. I'm just going to attach some of my responses on the form and content of selected essays. It can be daunting to try and sift through the entire anthology, so I hope this can help someone:

    Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch

    Content:

    It is kind of refreshing to find a guy who “atypically for his age, saw marriage as the closet of human bonds” (16). It is clear as we read this that he admires his “dear wife.” This is a letter written to her to give advice and encouragement to her as she mourns for their recently deceased little girl, who died while he was away (and somehow missed the message). It is interesting to see this kind of marriage dynamic and to get a glimpse at some of the cultural values of his society. This was written before 120 AD, and there are some practices that are definitely different from what we would be accustomed to. For one, mourning is not really appropriate, and actually against the law (22). The advice given to his wife was clear on that, and he commended her for handling it so well.

    Yet, some things are similar, and some of the advice might be as applicable today as it was over a thousand years ago. I thought it was interesting that he realized that his daughter only knew of “little things, and in little things she took her please” (21). Since she had no way of knowing what she was deprived of, they should therefore not mourn the loss of potential. I don’t think I would necessarily love that advice if I had a kid pass away, but he has a point, and it seems applicable to now.

    One of the other things notable about this letter was that, beautiful as it was, Plutarch seemed to betray no emotion. That would probably be a societal value as well.

    Form:
    The most notable thing about this form is that it is written as a letter to his wife. She is the audience, and he writes directly to her. Yet, the messages and the formal way he writes make it universal.

    The form of the letter really does kind of wrap up the comments on form. It has an intended audience and flows organically wherever the topic comes to. He does not change voice, use flashback, or anything like that. There are a lot of rhetorical questions though, which is probably a notable device, and the letter is somewhat of an argument meant to persuade not just his wife, but others, the appropriate way to behave after a death.

    Love-Letters by Addison &Steele

    Content:

    This was hilarious! It is essentially a commentary on two different love letters to Romana to prove a point about the complexity of what women want in a guy. Tale as old as time! We tend to want the guy who is fun, dangerous, and frankly not the best choice, though, as this lady says, “she knew she out to have taken Constant; but believed, she should have chosen Carless” (135).

    Form:

    This is a really interesting form—we get a very “show but not tell” thing going on, which does not seem to be very common for the time period it was written. It begins and ends with an overarching commentary but includes two letters from outside voices. The two letters are almost exactly the same as far as style and length, but the first (Careless) is vain and silly, while the second (Constant) is formal and boring. Yet, the last paragraph that sums up the point does not come out with a didactic moral of the story kind of line. Instead, the last line is left to Romana, who sums it up for us.

    This was also very impersonal. We got minimal details about the actual narrator.

    On Marriage by Robert Louis Stevenson

    Content:

    It was not necessarily easy to figure out right away what Stevenson was talking about. He first comes out saying that while “there is something in marriage so natural and inviting” that “there is probably no other act in a man’s life so hot-headed and foolhardy” (230). He explains that people who want to get married to fix their problems should not be married, because you’ll only bring the other person problems.

    At this point he goes on to unveil the ideal of marriage and reminds us all that when we marry, we are taking on “a creature of equal, if of unlike, frailties; whose weak human heart beats no more tunefully” than our own (233). Understanding this, Stevenson then argues that if we get over this and truly understand the institution of marriage, then we should proceed with hope, faith, and find “glimpses of kind virtues” amidst the hardship (235).

    I like this argument. Marriage is a lot of work and I think a lot of kids in my ward could benefit from this. My parents taught me well how much work marriage is, but I think many of my friends see it as the answer to their problems. I think marriage is something wonderful and something I now look forward to (though that was not always the case), but it needs to stop being idealized as a fix-all solution. I’ve always felt that no relationship will work well if one or both of the parties are not whole on their own first.

    Form:
    This was meant to be a persuasive essay. Stevenson obviously has a lot of feeling on the subject because of personal experience (as the biography states), but he leaves it pretty impersonal. In fact, before I read the biography and casually skimmed this essay I misunderstood it completely, thinking that Stevenson was arguing that marriage anything but a positive experience. It is not very concrete and does not give many concrete examples, which might be one reason why it is kind of difficult to wade through.

    Along with that the organization is like most of the essays from this time, go with the flow till you reach the conclusion. We don’t really see how the beginning fits with the topic until we get to the end. What I can gather is that the essays starts on one large sentence on hope, goes through a few abstractions, and then argues them. It takes a few paragraphs to get to the point, which is very unlike a more modern essay form.

    Stevenson starts a lot of his sentences with “And.” I remember learning that that was a horrible idea in high school, but now it seems to be encouraged. I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it more myself.

    A Piece of Chalk by G.K. Chesterton

    Content:

    I love pretty much everything written by Chesterton. What I liked most about the content of this piece was the whole “what is white” as a color debate. Even though he meant it more as a moral thing, virtue needing to be tested, the color debate it is one I have had with myself many times. As a painter, white is not a color. Black is. Don’t believe me? Smear the paint on your easel together and see what color you end up with. But, to the scientist, white is the “all color.” According to Chesterton too I guess. I do like this argument much better than all the other “waves” and garbage they use to explain it though. I like this as an artist. I like that he doesn’t draw on very conventional things, and his argument about not needing to be a Wordsworth to appreciate nature simply because you don’t describe it is fantastic. Maybe it is how we can balance feeling romantic while being post modern. I can tell, based on what limited info I have, that this is the nonconforming artist. He is also funny, with parts that made me laugh out loud. Chesterton seems a little bizarre, and I like that.

    Form:

    The essay begins with “I remember.” This is a pure reminiscing moment, and the entire essay is written in past tense. It is told chronologically, but like Woolf, meandering from concrete image into an interesting significance and overarching theme. He plays with humor. His sentences breaking up his insights are blunt, pulling you back to the moment. He outright trumps the romantic’s argument by doing the whole, “don’t for heaven’s sake, imagine I was going to sketch nature.” He is addressing us as listeners, and he is telling the story, guiding us along with cues.

    We see this again with the single paragraph, “Meanwhile I could not find my chalk.” It is a subtle humor. I feel like he is definitely a realist. This style and the images he invokes give a great sense of his character, even within such a short amount of space.

    The essay is divided by ellipses between his experience buying chalk and then when he goes out to use the chalk. Because the experience buying the chalk does not tell us why he is doing it, it keeps us reading trying to figure out what he is up to. For breaks between what he is doing in that moment and a thought he is having, the essay does a double space and does not indent the paragraph, like other essays I have come across in this anthology and Best American Travel Writing 2010.

    The ending is not spelled out, but there is a clear conclusion. I love that.

    On Running After One’s Hat b G.K. Chesterton

    Content:

    This was quite a bit different from A Piece of Chalk. It still had the humor and the “this is how it is people” tone, but the message in this essay was one I needed to hear in the field. So much of our experience is based on our outlook, and Chesterton makes it seem like a real choice we have. “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” That is a great line.

    Form:

    The first thing I noticed was that Chesterton says “I feel” and not “I felt.” Where A Piece of Chalk was told in the past tense, here he is telling the story of London’s flooding as a present affair. It holds all the romance of the home country, and yet it is so strange and shocking that the reader wants to keep reading to figure out if this guy is insane or has a point to make. It is bold! Either way, it is a great way to grab the reader’s attention.

    The flood was the frame for the essay. It starts and ends making sense of that image, but the whole middle encourages us to revaluate the way we look at misfortune. He does it with humor too, which makes it not feel preachy and gets us to laugh at ourselves instead. He also uses a lot of specific, concrete examples to make his point. This essay is meant to be a persuasive argument.

    Another device I noticed that Chesterton uses in this essay is a lot of “as I said” phrases to keep the reader on track. It sounds more casual and conversation-esk without feeling repetitive. This matter-of-fact tone and the repetition also helps establish the ethos of the narrator as someone who is confident in what he is talking about, and someone not afraid to make a point and argue it, even if it is in left field. He seems to thoroughly enjoy it too! By the end of the essay he lets on that we might recognize his claims as a little absurd, but he lightly encourages us to see the extreme as a way to demonstrate a general point. In this sense, I don’t feel like Chesterton is very vulnerable in his essays. It seems that he is more interested in getting us to re-think the way we think and see the world.

    Street Haunting: A London Adventure by Virginia Woolf

    Content:

    This is potentially my favorite personal essay of all of the ones I’ve ever read. I have probably read through it fifteen times, but each experience teaches me something new—some image I did not immediately discover. It is genius. It is real. What happens when we travel? I love the image transforming from “the self our friends know us by” and becoming “part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers.” How we can do anything with a pretext, even something like going out for a pencil. It makes me wonder why I travel.

    I love how Woolf is able to show how we can be in our minds and outside—how we can be sitting at dinner and somehow be off thinking about something entirely different. It is so in line with how we really live. I don’t know how to adequately express how this piece resonates with me. I want to read all of her work.

    Form:

    Woolf’s stream of conscious style is the most notable of the features she uses in her essays. We have a lot of concrete images and metaphors to keep the piece moving and interesting. She has no problem using “too many” commas and adverbs, and it flows like the content, a journey in the mind.

    This style leads us along with her. It is not a past reflection, but yet her observations are written in the past tense, while her thoughts are in the present, drawing attention to that. It is not a traditional essay. You read it as if it is happening right now, like you are right there, and she is right beside you, except that it seems more like it is coming from your own head. Either way, it is your eyes that see it. The transitions seem to be a lot of “ands” and “perhaps” and “buts.” There is no arguable pattern of flow of an event or subject. It just flows to one topic to the next, and it works.

    The narrator does not outright state her own feelings, or insights, or reactions. It is a description of “out there,” and so we understand her personality from a distance. This is an interesting way of being personal and vulnerable in an essay. This style tells us something about her. She is withdrawn, an observer, and reflecting the way it would naturally come to the mind.

    The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf

    Content:

    Okay, this is slightly disturbing. It is well done, but it is clear that the dying moth, the one that had our sympathies “on the side of life,” (267), is probably a metaphor for Woolf herself. Death and life were both left as strange and there was no kind of wrap up conclusion to make sense of it all. It is left ambiguous, which I found powerful.

    Form:

    Woolf paints some awesome images! If they were not as concrete and beautiful, it would probably be really hard to pull of the stream of conscious writing style. The first line is a great example: “dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom” or “yellow-underwing.” It is just enjoyable to read, even if we don’t understand it all on a first, second, or even third read through.

    The moth is a metaphor. That is a device worth noting. Not only is it an interesting metaphor to Woolf knowing that she killed herself later, but to all of us, trying to make sense of the whole “to be or not to be” feelings we have as humans sometimes.

    This essay is not very personal. The entire thing is written in the past tense, and it feels withdrawn if anything. It seems to be more of a string of vivid observations than a kind of argument set out to prove something. It is a chronological and unbroken narrative, short and to the point. The objective nature of the essay seems to match the content of the coldness of death.

    He and I by Natalia Ginzburg

    Content:

    This was really sad, but really well done commenting on the difficulties of a husband wife relationship in the eyes of the wife. It highlights many of my own concerns with marriage—how you can be in such an intimate relationship as marriage and yet be so completely different and distant from each other. This sums up everything I do not want to think and feel in my future marriage.

    Form:

    The form was very distinct and powerful—the sentences were short and plain. Most of the paragraphs are just a line or two, and it goes through different aspects of their marriage by identifying their opposites. “He is this and I am that,” etc., and always in a way to put the narrator down. The narrator never includes names. She is “I” and her husband is always “he.” I think that helps make this essay universal, even if she goes through many specifics.

    There is no specific organization to this essay. It just goes through a list of opposites and then once in awhile gives us a snap shot of a moment where this was the case.

    To help with the intimacy of this essay, it is told in the present tense. The power of this essay is that it is honest and real, giving a lot of concrete examples. It is so simple, but it works so well! This is a style that I want to try to play with at some point, though I’m not sure if fits so well with my India essays.

    The Courage of Turtles by Edward Hoagland

    Content:

    This was a very vulnerable and sad essay. I think the title is kind of ironic, because it seems to be more about the courage of the narrator. I like this narrator—I like that he collects and tries to save turtles in New York City. That is such a strange, random thing to do. I think it said a lot about him.

    You certainly do not leave this feeling warm and happy. It was sad almost the entire way through it, and the fact that the guy just walked away at the end was really tragic somehow. We came to feel about the turtle the same way that he did. He tried to do the right thing, but in the end he was the turtle killer. Sad sad sad. But good.

    Form:

    This essay was divided into two parts. The first part starts with a really bizarre sentence, which hooks us, and then gives us a little bit of background about him and where his fascination with turtles began as a kid.

    The second part of the essay, divided by asterisks, takes us into his adulthood and where his turtle obsession seems to have taken him—why turtles? Most of the second essay is observation. It also includes a lot of background history and information about turtles, giving the narrator credibility as a turtle expert and not some guy who just likes pets. This shows depth to the characters fascination with turtles and that through the years he has put a lot of thought and energy into them. As he talks about it though, the reader is not left bored since he includes a lot of vivid images and great descriptions. The final description of putting the turtle in the Hudson was especially vivid.

    This whole essay was told in the past tense. I’m not sure that the author intended any real message, but rather wanted to tell a story and express a part of himself. It seems to be a bit confessional as well. There is not a lot of humor in this. The narrator puts himself down and paints himself just as vulnerable as the writing. He feels bad about his lack of real aid to the turtles, and in turn we feel bad for him for feeling that way.

    This would certainly be a form I could imitate for some of my India essays. It is one I will come back to when I am drafting.


  7. Shawn Shawn says:

    This is a giant collection of personal essay’s spanning a couple thousand years. These essays are very diverse; so it is logical that a reader will find some among them they love better than others. And yet, the beauty of this collection is its diversity. These essays quickly introduce one to a myriad of personalities, to which a reader might otherwise never be exposed.

    A few of the essays that I liked best:

    Scipio’s Villa by Seneca, which explains how ostentatious displays deteriorate our humanness and disguise us from who we really are. Seneca was a Stoic, born in Spain, about the same time as Christ.

    Slaves by Seneca, tells how we all enslave others in a wide variety of ways: physically, monetarily, in lust, militarily, by indoctrination, employment, etc. Seneca declares that we must free one another.

    Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch, is about how mourning losses and setbacks can be alleviated by celebrating blessings, which are invariably more abundant. Plutarch was born near the temple of Delphi, in 46 A.D.

    The Superannuated Man by Charles Lamb, is about the silliness of overwork. Lamb was born in 1775 in London, and was a working person who moonlighted as a journalist.

    On Going a Journey by William Hazlitt, is an introspection on travelling. Hazlitt was born in 1778, the son of a Unitarian minister.

    The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf, is about the brevity of life. Born in 1882, Virginia Woolf was a pioneer of modern fiction.

    Such, Such Were the Joys , by George Orwell, is about the absurdities of adult life. Orwell, born in 1903, is the author of Animal Farm and 1984.

    The Execution of Tropmann , by Ivan Turgenev, is about the grief of capital punishment. Turgenev, born in 1818, is among the greatest Russian writers.

    Some Blind Alleys: A Letter by E. M. Cloran, is an exercise in rash skepticism. Cloran was a Romanian, Greek Orthodox priest, born in 1911.

    He and I by Natalia Ginzburg, is about the happenstance of life and how we constantly change, as do our circumstances. Ginzburg was a major Italian writer born in 1916.

    How I Started to Write by Carlos Fuentes, is about the necessity for cultural exchange. Fuentes is a celebrated Mexican novelist born in 1928.

    Walking by Henry David Thoreau, is full of the magnificent reflections of Thoreau, the famous American writer, born in 1817.

    Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, is about systemic discrimination and its effects. Baldwin was born in 1924 and is a great American essayist.

    Split at the Root by Adrienne Rich, is a dissection of class consciousness. Rich was born in 1929 and tells of the difficulties of being half-Jewish.

    An Entrance to the Woods by Wendell Berry, a Kentuckian born in 1934, consists of the reflections of a lone backpacker.

    Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion, is about sifting between the realities and the dreams of New York. Didion, an American writer, was born in 1934.

    Seeing by Annie Dillard is one of the best. It’s about the art of seeing. Dillard was born in 1945 and grew up in Pittsburg.

    The Knife by Richard Selzer, a surgeon, is an imaginative personification of the scalpel. Selzer was born in 1928 and grew up in New York.

    Under the Influence by Scott Russell Sanders is about the specter of alcoholism. Sanders, an American essayist, was born in 1945 and writes about the horrors of his fathers alcoholism.

    Characteristics of One Who Blogs or Writes Personal Essays

    Right among the best of the essays is the wonderful Introduction by Phillip Lopate, in which Lopate outlines the identifying characteristics of those who would endeavor to write personal essays. I couldn’t help but list these characteristics, which follow, because they so well define, not only essay writers, but also modern bloggers:

    • Personal essayists converse with the page because they are having dialogues and disputes with themselves. The mind works by contradiction. The essayist examines his own doubts by posing objections.

    • Honesty is central to the ethos of the personal essay. The personal essayist explores how far his essay can drop past his psychic defenses and expose deeper levels of honesty.

    • The impulse of the personal essayist is to scrape away illusions, to remove the mask, and to bare the naked soul. As a result, the wiliness of an essayist to expose his vulnerabilities is essential.

    • The essayist receives, digests, and spits out the world and, as a result, readers learn the shape of his privacy.

    • Personal essayists are adept at interrogating their ignorance and routinely harvest truth from self-contradiction. Posing questions is routine as an essayist investigates, probes, and explores.

    • Personal essayists have the ability to turn most anything into a grand meditational adventure.

    • The personal essayist is not out to win an audience so much as to paint a complex self-portrait.

    • Personal essayists often intentionally go against the grain of popular opinion.

    • The essayist is more interested in the exercise of his faculties for their own sake than he is in entertaining any reader.

    • The essayist attempts to surround his subject matter by coming at it from all angles. While the search appears to be widening and losing its way, it is actually eliminating false hypotheses, narrowing its target, and zeroing in. The essayist is like a cook who learns by trial and error.

    • The essayist happily violates the number-one rule of short story workshops: “Show, don’t tell”. The essayist loves to tell everything he thinks, knows, and understands.

    • The essayist loves to use quotations, to borrow upon the expertise of others, and to allow others to say what he cannot say as well.

    • Personal essays are addressed to a fuzzy audience that may or may not exist, or who may not exist until some future time.

    • The personal essay shies away from the violence of dogma; it allows for all sorts of opinions. The essay is unashamed subjectivity.

    • The personal essayist may end up contradicting himself. In the process of comparison and contrast, there is a tolerance for contradiction.

    • The self-consciousness and self-reflection that essay writing demands cannot help but have an influence on the essayist’s life. Essays monitor the self and help it to gel.

    • Essayists recognize valid refutation not as a personal defeat but as an advance toward the truth.

    Vocab

    Fastidious – detailed, hard to please, excessively concerned
    Pillory – wooden instrument of torture with holes for wrists and neck
    Temerity – nerve, daring, audacity, gall, boldness
    Discursive – lengthy, broad, expansive, conversational, musing (not concise)
    Remunerate – reward, compensate, recompense, repay
    Copious – much, abundant
    Credulity – tendency to believe readily
    Petulant – easily irritated or annoyed, peevish

  8. K K says:

    I always come back to this anthology for Robert Louis Stevenson's The Lantern Bearers, probably one of my favorite pieces of all time, by one of my favorite authors. The quote below isn't inspirational or aphoristic, but when I think of my favorite quotes, this paragraph rings out. Read aloud, its words and rhythm (say top-coat buttoned) are beautiful on their own, but as far as the sentiment underpinning it, I could almost take it as a manifesto:

    But the talk, at any rate, was but a condiment; and these gatherings themselves only accidents in the career of the lantern-bearer. The essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut, the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your fool’s heart, to know you had a bull’s-eye at your belt, and to exult and sing over the knowledge.

    Also, two other standouts: I recently read The Pillow Book, because the Sei Shonagon excerpt included in this collection, Hateful Things, is so viciously funny. The Crack Up is a masterpiece, but I can never re-create that first reading, where I really understood for the first time how a good author can lead you so nonconsenually down a path you didn't expect to walk. I reccomend it to others so they can experience that artful violation for the first time.

  9. Daniela M Daniela M says:

    Read most of the essays, either while going through this very book or through my encounters with other collections. As is to be expected from a collection that attempts to cover such a range of periods and topics, some of them are good, others are not. I think there's many better choices that could've been made in terms of representing writing of authors such as Virginia Woolf or Adrienne Rich, but here we are. Many authors, particularly women writers, are missed out in the collection, and it clearly lacks sections on women's or queer movements, which makes me think of it as a rather bad attempt at a literary anthology of any form. Nothing I'd recommend acquiring, get separate collections of writings you're actually interested in; I myself wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't for a class. It was ok, indicated by the two stars rating, is all I'm willing to give it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 thoughts on “The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present

  1. Keertana Keertana says:

    I need to make a separate shelf for this book titled, kill-me-now, because really, the best way to offer someone a slow and painful death is to make them read this. I was forced to read this for class and write up summaries and analysis' for practically all the essays, in addition to taking a test and writing an essay on these essays for my classes, so I did not have fun reading this. It's boring, it's long, and 99.9% of the essays in this are boring. I guess if you like reading personal essays this might be your thing, but they're clearly not for me.

    Seneca, thank you for writing essays that were only two pages long.

    James Baldwin, thank you for writing an essay that, although was long, actually kept my attention!

    Joan Didion, thank you too for writing a short essay that was only three pages long.

    Michael Montaigne, you are hailed as the best personal essay writer ever, but I still have no idea what the purpose of your ramblings were. Seriously, that looong thing I read couldn't have been a coherent essay. No. Way.

    Richard Rodriguez, I'm sorry I never even bothered to read your essay because it was the last one. I'm also sorry I had to make up a really bad analysis for it because the internet didn't have much information on it. Curse you, Google! I bet Hermione would have had the answers I needed! >.<

    Phillip Lopate, the guy who had WAY too much time on his hands to compile all these BORING AS HELL essays and RUIN MY LIFE, you SUCK! If I ever meet you...well, let's just say your face won't be so pretty anymore and your family members will fail to recognize you. You might need a wheelchair afterwards too.

    I read this...anthology...and wished I could have seen insta-love between the pages. I dreamt about crappy love triangles, Mary Sues, lack of world-building, and terribly developed characters while reading this book because all that stuff is so much better than this anthology. If I could give this book 0.00000001 Stars, I would. In short, give this to your worst enemy or hand it out to criminals in the prison if you want them to die of insanity. Otherwise, RUN AWAY! I don't even think going to Antarctica can get me far enough away from this book. *starts running*

  2. Michael Michael says:

    So many great essays in this anthology that it would be worthy for that reason alone, but Lopate's organizational principles make this especially useful for the essayist in search of models, or for the reader who is chasing the many forms of a specific type of essay, or for anyone who enjoys reading personal nonfiction. I never fail to feel a buzz of anticipatory joy when I pick this volume up, and writing out this Goodreads note makes me realize that I really should dip back into this soon.

  3. Jessica Jessica says:

    My favorite essay in this thick, heavy, door-stopping book is a humble writing of G.K. Chesterton entitled A Piece of Chalk. I absolutely adore drawing with chalk and so of course I felt connected to him right off the bat. It was actually the first time I'd ever read Chesterton before, and I instantly fell in love. There is something in his writing that resonates with something inside me... in other words, it feels good. This anthology also includes other masters, both classic and modern such as Didion, Seneca, among many, many others. Despite the size, it's very easy to read through and find your own favorites thanks to the table that sorts the essays by theme.

  4. Nancy Nancy says:

    Lopate's introduction alone is worth the price of admission to this house of wonders. Anyone at all interested in writing essays must read it. As for the essays themselves, some are more riveting/amusing/touching than others. My favorites: Seneca on Asthma; Virginia Woolf on Street Haunting and Death of a Moth; George Orwell's hair-raising account of prep school English-style, Such, Such Were the Days; Richard Selzer's The Knife (don't read this if you have surgery scheduled); Didion's Goodbye to All That...Okay, I see I have a lot of favorites, most of them in the 20th century. The culmination is Lopate's own hilarious Against Joie de Vivre. The man is some kind of quirky genius at a genre that can't get no respect.

  5. Snickers Snickers says:

    This collection of essays warrants several readings. Phillip Lopate, a distinguished essayist and brother of Leonard Lopate, NPR commentator on New York City's WNYC, presents a sizable and articulate Introduction of what makes an essay 'personal'. He examines the process of crafting the personal essay by dedicating digestible segments under headings such as The Conversational Element, Honesty, Confession, and Privacy, and Questions of Form and Style. This book is as much of a resource as it is a compendium of powerful yet honest writing.

    I chose this book out of want to be better writer in craft but also as a learning tool on how to come closer to my questions and understandings of the human condition. I wanted to hone my ability to drop deeper into areas of myself and write skillfully of my thought process. Lopate brings together a wonderful survey of the long tradition in the genre of the personal essay starting from writers like Seneca and Sei Shinagon under the chapter heading Forerunners, onto Fountainhead with Montaigne, The Rise of the English Essay with works by Beerbohm, Chesterton, Woolf, and Orwell, Other Cultures, Other Continents by Tanizaki, Hsun, Borges, Fuentes, and finally with The American Scene by Thoreau, Vidal, Pemberton, Rodriguez, and Lopate himself. This is naming just a few of the many writers in this volume with several essays included for each writer. The table of contents also offers a way of finding essays according to to themes like Analytic Meditation, Letters (Epistolary Essay), and Portrait and Double Portrait. The book comes with an extensive bibliography broken up into Works About the Essay, Pertinant Books by Authors Featured in this Anthology, and Suggested Further Reading. This is a treasured tome where Lopate's dedication to continuing this genre's tradition comes through.

    Each essayist's collection also begins with a short description written by Lopate giving historical and societal context further elucidating the writer's style and nuances.

    I will be reading this collection again and again.

  6. Rachel Rachel says:

    As I have been working on some of my own personal essays from my travels in India, this was like my Bible. I'm just going to attach some of my responses on the form and content of selected essays. It can be daunting to try and sift through the entire anthology, so I hope this can help someone:

    Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch

    Content:

    It is kind of refreshing to find a guy who “atypically for his age, saw marriage as the closet of human bonds” (16). It is clear as we read this that he admires his “dear wife.” This is a letter written to her to give advice and encouragement to her as she mourns for their recently deceased little girl, who died while he was away (and somehow missed the message). It is interesting to see this kind of marriage dynamic and to get a glimpse at some of the cultural values of his society. This was written before 120 AD, and there are some practices that are definitely different from what we would be accustomed to. For one, mourning is not really appropriate, and actually against the law (22). The advice given to his wife was clear on that, and he commended her for handling it so well.

    Yet, some things are similar, and some of the advice might be as applicable today as it was over a thousand years ago. I thought it was interesting that he realized that his daughter only knew of “little things, and in little things she took her please” (21). Since she had no way of knowing what she was deprived of, they should therefore not mourn the loss of potential. I don’t think I would necessarily love that advice if I had a kid pass away, but he has a point, and it seems applicable to now.

    One of the other things notable about this letter was that, beautiful as it was, Plutarch seemed to betray no emotion. That would probably be a societal value as well.

    Form:
    The most notable thing about this form is that it is written as a letter to his wife. She is the audience, and he writes directly to her. Yet, the messages and the formal way he writes make it universal.

    The form of the letter really does kind of wrap up the comments on form. It has an intended audience and flows organically wherever the topic comes to. He does not change voice, use flashback, or anything like that. There are a lot of rhetorical questions though, which is probably a notable device, and the letter is somewhat of an argument meant to persuade not just his wife, but others, the appropriate way to behave after a death.

    Love-Letters by Addison &Steele

    Content:

    This was hilarious! It is essentially a commentary on two different love letters to Romana to prove a point about the complexity of what women want in a guy. Tale as old as time! We tend to want the guy who is fun, dangerous, and frankly not the best choice, though, as this lady says, “she knew she out to have taken Constant; but believed, she should have chosen Carless” (135).

    Form:

    This is a really interesting form—we get a very “show but not tell” thing going on, which does not seem to be very common for the time period it was written. It begins and ends with an overarching commentary but includes two letters from outside voices. The two letters are almost exactly the same as far as style and length, but the first (Careless) is vain and silly, while the second (Constant) is formal and boring. Yet, the last paragraph that sums up the point does not come out with a didactic moral of the story kind of line. Instead, the last line is left to Romana, who sums it up for us.

    This was also very impersonal. We got minimal details about the actual narrator.

    On Marriage by Robert Louis Stevenson

    Content:

    It was not necessarily easy to figure out right away what Stevenson was talking about. He first comes out saying that while “there is something in marriage so natural and inviting” that “there is probably no other act in a man’s life so hot-headed and foolhardy” (230). He explains that people who want to get married to fix their problems should not be married, because you’ll only bring the other person problems.

    At this point he goes on to unveil the ideal of marriage and reminds us all that when we marry, we are taking on “a creature of equal, if of unlike, frailties; whose weak human heart beats no more tunefully” than our own (233). Understanding this, Stevenson then argues that if we get over this and truly understand the institution of marriage, then we should proceed with hope, faith, and find “glimpses of kind virtues” amidst the hardship (235).

    I like this argument. Marriage is a lot of work and I think a lot of kids in my ward could benefit from this. My parents taught me well how much work marriage is, but I think many of my friends see it as the answer to their problems. I think marriage is something wonderful and something I now look forward to (though that was not always the case), but it needs to stop being idealized as a fix-all solution. I’ve always felt that no relationship will work well if one or both of the parties are not whole on their own first.

    Form:
    This was meant to be a persuasive essay. Stevenson obviously has a lot of feeling on the subject because of personal experience (as the biography states), but he leaves it pretty impersonal. In fact, before I read the biography and casually skimmed this essay I misunderstood it completely, thinking that Stevenson was arguing that marriage anything but a positive experience. It is not very concrete and does not give many concrete examples, which might be one reason why it is kind of difficult to wade through.

    Along with that the organization is like most of the essays from this time, go with the flow till you reach the conclusion. We don’t really see how the beginning fits with the topic until we get to the end. What I can gather is that the essays starts on one large sentence on hope, goes through a few abstractions, and then argues them. It takes a few paragraphs to get to the point, which is very unlike a more modern essay form.

    Stevenson starts a lot of his sentences with “And.” I remember learning that that was a horrible idea in high school, but now it seems to be encouraged. I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it more myself.

    A Piece of Chalk by G.K. Chesterton

    Content:

    I love pretty much everything written by Chesterton. What I liked most about the content of this piece was the whole “what is white” as a color debate. Even though he meant it more as a moral thing, virtue needing to be tested, the color debate it is one I have had with myself many times. As a painter, white is not a color. Black is. Don’t believe me? Smear the paint on your easel together and see what color you end up with. But, to the scientist, white is the “all color.” According to Chesterton too I guess. I do like this argument much better than all the other “waves” and garbage they use to explain it though. I like this as an artist. I like that he doesn’t draw on very conventional things, and his argument about not needing to be a Wordsworth to appreciate nature simply because you don’t describe it is fantastic. Maybe it is how we can balance feeling romantic while being post modern. I can tell, based on what limited info I have, that this is the nonconforming artist. He is also funny, with parts that made me laugh out loud. Chesterton seems a little bizarre, and I like that.

    Form:

    The essay begins with “I remember.” This is a pure reminiscing moment, and the entire essay is written in past tense. It is told chronologically, but like Woolf, meandering from concrete image into an interesting significance and overarching theme. He plays with humor. His sentences breaking up his insights are blunt, pulling you back to the moment. He outright trumps the romantic’s argument by doing the whole, “don’t for heaven’s sake, imagine I was going to sketch nature.” He is addressing us as listeners, and he is telling the story, guiding us along with cues.

    We see this again with the single paragraph, “Meanwhile I could not find my chalk.” It is a subtle humor. I feel like he is definitely a realist. This style and the images he invokes give a great sense of his character, even within such a short amount of space.

    The essay is divided by ellipses between his experience buying chalk and then when he goes out to use the chalk. Because the experience buying the chalk does not tell us why he is doing it, it keeps us reading trying to figure out what he is up to. For breaks between what he is doing in that moment and a thought he is having, the essay does a double space and does not indent the paragraph, like other essays I have come across in this anthology and Best American Travel Writing 2010.

    The ending is not spelled out, but there is a clear conclusion. I love that.

    On Running After One’s Hat b G.K. Chesterton

    Content:

    This was quite a bit different from A Piece of Chalk. It still had the humor and the “this is how it is people” tone, but the message in this essay was one I needed to hear in the field. So much of our experience is based on our outlook, and Chesterton makes it seem like a real choice we have. “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” That is a great line.

    Form:

    The first thing I noticed was that Chesterton says “I feel” and not “I felt.” Where A Piece of Chalk was told in the past tense, here he is telling the story of London’s flooding as a present affair. It holds all the romance of the home country, and yet it is so strange and shocking that the reader wants to keep reading to figure out if this guy is insane or has a point to make. It is bold! Either way, it is a great way to grab the reader’s attention.

    The flood was the frame for the essay. It starts and ends making sense of that image, but the whole middle encourages us to revaluate the way we look at misfortune. He does it with humor too, which makes it not feel preachy and gets us to laugh at ourselves instead. He also uses a lot of specific, concrete examples to make his point. This essay is meant to be a persuasive argument.

    Another device I noticed that Chesterton uses in this essay is a lot of “as I said” phrases to keep the reader on track. It sounds more casual and conversation-esk without feeling repetitive. This matter-of-fact tone and the repetition also helps establish the ethos of the narrator as someone who is confident in what he is talking about, and someone not afraid to make a point and argue it, even if it is in left field. He seems to thoroughly enjoy it too! By the end of the essay he lets on that we might recognize his claims as a little absurd, but he lightly encourages us to see the extreme as a way to demonstrate a general point. In this sense, I don’t feel like Chesterton is very vulnerable in his essays. It seems that he is more interested in getting us to re-think the way we think and see the world.

    Street Haunting: A London Adventure by Virginia Woolf

    Content:

    This is potentially my favorite personal essay of all of the ones I’ve ever read. I have probably read through it fifteen times, but each experience teaches me something new—some image I did not immediately discover. It is genius. It is real. What happens when we travel? I love the image transforming from “the self our friends know us by” and becoming “part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers.” How we can do anything with a pretext, even something like going out for a pencil. It makes me wonder why I travel.

    I love how Woolf is able to show how we can be in our minds and outside—how we can be sitting at dinner and somehow be off thinking about something entirely different. It is so in line with how we really live. I don’t know how to adequately express how this piece resonates with me. I want to read all of her work.

    Form:

    Woolf’s stream of conscious style is the most notable of the features she uses in her essays. We have a lot of concrete images and metaphors to keep the piece moving and interesting. She has no problem using “too many” commas and adverbs, and it flows like the content, a journey in the mind.

    This style leads us along with her. It is not a past reflection, but yet her observations are written in the past tense, while her thoughts are in the present, drawing attention to that. It is not a traditional essay. You read it as if it is happening right now, like you are right there, and she is right beside you, except that it seems more like it is coming from your own head. Either way, it is your eyes that see it. The transitions seem to be a lot of “ands” and “perhaps” and “buts.” There is no arguable pattern of flow of an event or subject. It just flows to one topic to the next, and it works.

    The narrator does not outright state her own feelings, or insights, or reactions. It is a description of “out there,” and so we understand her personality from a distance. This is an interesting way of being personal and vulnerable in an essay. This style tells us something about her. She is withdrawn, an observer, and reflecting the way it would naturally come to the mind.

    The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf

    Content:

    Okay, this is slightly disturbing. It is well done, but it is clear that the dying moth, the one that had our sympathies “on the side of life,” (267), is probably a metaphor for Woolf herself. Death and life were both left as strange and there was no kind of wrap up conclusion to make sense of it all. It is left ambiguous, which I found powerful.

    Form:

    Woolf paints some awesome images! If they were not as concrete and beautiful, it would probably be really hard to pull of the stream of conscious writing style. The first line is a great example: “dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom” or “yellow-underwing.” It is just enjoyable to read, even if we don’t understand it all on a first, second, or even third read through.

    The moth is a metaphor. That is a device worth noting. Not only is it an interesting metaphor to Woolf knowing that she killed herself later, but to all of us, trying to make sense of the whole “to be or not to be” feelings we have as humans sometimes.

    This essay is not very personal. The entire thing is written in the past tense, and it feels withdrawn if anything. It seems to be more of a string of vivid observations than a kind of argument set out to prove something. It is a chronological and unbroken narrative, short and to the point. The objective nature of the essay seems to match the content of the coldness of death.

    He and I by Natalia Ginzburg

    Content:

    This was really sad, but really well done commenting on the difficulties of a husband wife relationship in the eyes of the wife. It highlights many of my own concerns with marriage—how you can be in such an intimate relationship as marriage and yet be so completely different and distant from each other. This sums up everything I do not want to think and feel in my future marriage.

    Form:

    The form was very distinct and powerful—the sentences were short and plain. Most of the paragraphs are just a line or two, and it goes through different aspects of their marriage by identifying their opposites. “He is this and I am that,” etc., and always in a way to put the narrator down. The narrator never includes names. She is “I” and her husband is always “he.” I think that helps make this essay universal, even if she goes through many specifics.

    There is no specific organization to this essay. It just goes through a list of opposites and then once in awhile gives us a snap shot of a moment where this was the case.

    To help with the intimacy of this essay, it is told in the present tense. The power of this essay is that it is honest and real, giving a lot of concrete examples. It is so simple, but it works so well! This is a style that I want to try to play with at some point, though I’m not sure if fits so well with my India essays.

    The Courage of Turtles by Edward Hoagland

    Content:

    This was a very vulnerable and sad essay. I think the title is kind of ironic, because it seems to be more about the courage of the narrator. I like this narrator—I like that he collects and tries to save turtles in New York City. That is such a strange, random thing to do. I think it said a lot about him.

    You certainly do not leave this feeling warm and happy. It was sad almost the entire way through it, and the fact that the guy just walked away at the end was really tragic somehow. We came to feel about the turtle the same way that he did. He tried to do the right thing, but in the end he was the turtle killer. Sad sad sad. But good.

    Form:

    This essay was divided into two parts. The first part starts with a really bizarre sentence, which hooks us, and then gives us a little bit of background about him and where his fascination with turtles began as a kid.

    The second part of the essay, divided by asterisks, takes us into his adulthood and where his turtle obsession seems to have taken him—why turtles? Most of the second essay is observation. It also includes a lot of background history and information about turtles, giving the narrator credibility as a turtle expert and not some guy who just likes pets. This shows depth to the characters fascination with turtles and that through the years he has put a lot of thought and energy into them. As he talks about it though, the reader is not left bored since he includes a lot of vivid images and great descriptions. The final description of putting the turtle in the Hudson was especially vivid.

    This whole essay was told in the past tense. I’m not sure that the author intended any real message, but rather wanted to tell a story and express a part of himself. It seems to be a bit confessional as well. There is not a lot of humor in this. The narrator puts himself down and paints himself just as vulnerable as the writing. He feels bad about his lack of real aid to the turtles, and in turn we feel bad for him for feeling that way.

    This would certainly be a form I could imitate for some of my India essays. It is one I will come back to when I am drafting.


  7. Shawn Shawn says:

    This is a giant collection of personal essay’s spanning a couple thousand years. These essays are very diverse; so it is logical that a reader will find some among them they love better than others. And yet, the beauty of this collection is its diversity. These essays quickly introduce one to a myriad of personalities, to which a reader might otherwise never be exposed.

    A few of the essays that I liked best:

    Scipio’s Villa by Seneca, which explains how ostentatious displays deteriorate our humanness and disguise us from who we really are. Seneca was a Stoic, born in Spain, about the same time as Christ.

    Slaves by Seneca, tells how we all enslave others in a wide variety of ways: physically, monetarily, in lust, militarily, by indoctrination, employment, etc. Seneca declares that we must free one another.

    Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch, is about how mourning losses and setbacks can be alleviated by celebrating blessings, which are invariably more abundant. Plutarch was born near the temple of Delphi, in 46 A.D.

    The Superannuated Man by Charles Lamb, is about the silliness of overwork. Lamb was born in 1775 in London, and was a working person who moonlighted as a journalist.

    On Going a Journey by William Hazlitt, is an introspection on travelling. Hazlitt was born in 1778, the son of a Unitarian minister.

    The Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf, is about the brevity of life. Born in 1882, Virginia Woolf was a pioneer of modern fiction.

    Such, Such Were the Joys , by George Orwell, is about the absurdities of adult life. Orwell, born in 1903, is the author of Animal Farm and 1984.

    The Execution of Tropmann , by Ivan Turgenev, is about the grief of capital punishment. Turgenev, born in 1818, is among the greatest Russian writers.

    Some Blind Alleys: A Letter by E. M. Cloran, is an exercise in rash skepticism. Cloran was a Romanian, Greek Orthodox priest, born in 1911.

    He and I by Natalia Ginzburg, is about the happenstance of life and how we constantly change, as do our circumstances. Ginzburg was a major Italian writer born in 1916.

    How I Started to Write by Carlos Fuentes, is about the necessity for cultural exchange. Fuentes is a celebrated Mexican novelist born in 1928.

    Walking by Henry David Thoreau, is full of the magnificent reflections of Thoreau, the famous American writer, born in 1817.

    Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, is about systemic discrimination and its effects. Baldwin was born in 1924 and is a great American essayist.

    Split at the Root by Adrienne Rich, is a dissection of class consciousness. Rich was born in 1929 and tells of the difficulties of being half-Jewish.

    An Entrance to the Woods by Wendell Berry, a Kentuckian born in 1934, consists of the reflections of a lone backpacker.

    Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion, is about sifting between the realities and the dreams of New York. Didion, an American writer, was born in 1934.

    Seeing by Annie Dillard is one of the best. It’s about the art of seeing. Dillard was born in 1945 and grew up in Pittsburg.

    The Knife by Richard Selzer, a surgeon, is an imaginative personification of the scalpel. Selzer was born in 1928 and grew up in New York.

    Under the Influence by Scott Russell Sanders is about the specter of alcoholism. Sanders, an American essayist, was born in 1945 and writes about the horrors of his fathers alcoholism.

    Characteristics of One Who Blogs or Writes Personal Essays

    Right among the best of the essays is the wonderful Introduction by Phillip Lopate, in which Lopate outlines the identifying characteristics of those who would endeavor to write personal essays. I couldn’t help but list these characteristics, which follow, because they so well define, not only essay writers, but also modern bloggers:

    • Personal essayists converse with the page because they are having dialogues and disputes with themselves. The mind works by contradiction. The essayist examines his own doubts by posing objections.

    • Honesty is central to the ethos of the personal essay. The personal essayist explores how far his essay can drop past his psychic defenses and expose deeper levels of honesty.

    • The impulse of the personal essayist is to scrape away illusions, to remove the mask, and to bare the naked soul. As a result, the wiliness of an essayist to expose his vulnerabilities is essential.

    • The essayist receives, digests, and spits out the world and, as a result, readers learn the shape of his privacy.

    • Personal essayists are adept at interrogating their ignorance and routinely harvest truth from self-contradiction. Posing questions is routine as an essayist investigates, probes, and explores.

    • Personal essayists have the ability to turn most anything into a grand meditational adventure.

    • The personal essayist is not out to win an audience so much as to paint a complex self-portrait.

    • Personal essayists often intentionally go against the grain of popular opinion.

    • The essayist is more interested in the exercise of his faculties for their own sake than he is in entertaining any reader.

    • The essayist attempts to surround his subject matter by coming at it from all angles. While the search appears to be widening and losing its way, it is actually eliminating false hypotheses, narrowing its target, and zeroing in. The essayist is like a cook who learns by trial and error.

    • The essayist happily violates the number-one rule of short story workshops: “Show, don’t tell”. The essayist loves to tell everything he thinks, knows, and understands.

    • The essayist loves to use quotations, to borrow upon the expertise of others, and to allow others to say what he cannot say as well.

    • Personal essays are addressed to a fuzzy audience that may or may not exist, or who may not exist until some future time.

    • The personal essay shies away from the violence of dogma; it allows for all sorts of opinions. The essay is unashamed subjectivity.

    • The personal essayist may end up contradicting himself. In the process of comparison and contrast, there is a tolerance for contradiction.

    • The self-consciousness and self-reflection that essay writing demands cannot help but have an influence on the essayist’s life. Essays monitor the self and help it to gel.

    • Essayists recognize valid refutation not as a personal defeat but as an advance toward the truth.

    Vocab

    Fastidious – detailed, hard to please, excessively concerned
    Pillory – wooden instrument of torture with holes for wrists and neck
    Temerity – nerve, daring, audacity, gall, boldness
    Discursive – lengthy, broad, expansive, conversational, musing (not concise)
    Remunerate – reward, compensate, recompense, repay
    Copious – much, abundant
    Credulity – tendency to believe readily
    Petulant – easily irritated or annoyed, peevish

  8. K K says:

    I always come back to this anthology for Robert Louis Stevenson's The Lantern Bearers, probably one of my favorite pieces of all time, by one of my favorite authors. The quote below isn't inspirational or aphoristic, but when I think of my favorite quotes, this paragraph rings out. Read aloud, its words and rhythm (say top-coat buttoned) are beautiful on their own, but as far as the sentiment underpinning it, I could almost take it as a manifesto:

    But the talk, at any rate, was but a condiment; and these gatherings themselves only accidents in the career of the lantern-bearer. The essence of this bliss was to walk by yourself in the black night; the slide shut, the top-coat buttoned; not a ray escaping, whether to conduct your footsteps or to make your glory public: a mere pillar of darkness in the dark; and all the while, deep down in the privacy of your fool’s heart, to know you had a bull’s-eye at your belt, and to exult and sing over the knowledge.

    Also, two other standouts: I recently read The Pillow Book, because the Sei Shonagon excerpt included in this collection, Hateful Things, is so viciously funny. The Crack Up is a masterpiece, but I can never re-create that first reading, where I really understood for the first time how a good author can lead you so nonconsenually down a path you didn't expect to walk. I reccomend it to others so they can experience that artful violation for the first time.

  9. Daniela M Daniela M says:

    Read most of the essays, either while going through this very book or through my encounters with other collections. As is to be expected from a collection that attempts to cover such a range of periods and topics, some of them are good, others are not. I think there's many better choices that could've been made in terms of representing writing of authors such as Virginia Woolf or Adrienne Rich, but here we are. Many authors, particularly women writers, are missed out in the collection, and it clearly lacks sections on women's or queer movements, which makes me think of it as a rather bad attempt at a literary anthology of any form. Nothing I'd recommend acquiring, get separate collections of writings you're actually interested in; I myself wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't for a class. It was ok, indicated by the two stars rating, is all I'm willing to give it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *