It is true, for many the personal essay is dead. Yet in this heyday of fiction I confess I am a closet essay lover. Yes, I love essays, particularly the ones where there is such an intimate link with the author. You don’t hear writers talk much about them unless they’re having to write one for school or are immersed in an MFA program. Maybe, if you’re one of the few readers of creative nonfiction literary journals–I am, you might; but for the most part I don’t hear much nonfiction book chatter let alone praises for the lone essay.
Why even bother with an essay?
Phillip Lopate, in his introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay, says “the personal essay “should certainly be celebrated, because it is one of the more approachable and diverting types of literature we possess.” There’s a wonderful conversational element at work in the form, and, best of all, it’s often frank, sometimes even confessional, and always–at least it should be–honest.
The writer seems to be speaking directly into your ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom. Through sharing thoughts, memories, desires, complaints, and whimsies, the personal essayist sets up a relationship with the reader, a dialogue–friendship, if you will, based on identification, understanding, testiness, and companionship. — Phillip Lopate
So you can imagine my delight when I discovered the Essay Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by Carrie at Books and Movies. Yes indeedy, there is such an event and I am leaping into its midst.
The 2013 Essay Reading Challenge
The challenge is simple enough. It runs the entire year of 2013. You chose a goal of 10, 20 or 30 essays–I commit to 10 but will no doubt do more–and write a challenge post (this is it). You don’t have to choose in advance so you can respond at will. Link to any reviews you write on the main challenge page. That’s it. I’m in.
My plans for this reading challenge
Yes, I know, we don’t have to list any essays but I do want to mention that I plan, subject to change, to read through the following:
- The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
- Michel de Montaigne – The Complete Essays (Penguin Classics)
- Fourth Genre, The: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction (6th Edition)
- Fourth Genre Literary Magazine
- The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review
Are you a kindred spirit? Maybe you think all essays are the boring, difficult, even tedious writing you struggled with in school. You might want to give them a second look. You may be surprised. A good essay is a beautiful piece of writing and one that should, indeed, be celebrated. For more about the reading challenge, go here.
Please share your thoughts about essays, this reading challenge, or even about any essays you’re tackled yourself. Maybe you have a favorite you’d like to share.