The Sunday Salon: Essays #1

The Sunday

It's Essay Sunday! Boy, have I had fun with this one. So many good essays out in the world.

I was supposed to be out of town on a retreat this weekend; but I came down with a sore throat and decided not to chance staying in a "rustic cabin" (read: *cold* *damp* *moldy* - it is, after all, Oregon). So I ended up with a couple of bonus reading days, and the sore throat isn't so bad now.

I was rather amazed at how many books of essays I have on my bookshelves. Of course, there is an infinite amount available on the internet too. So finding good reads was not difficult.

  • From At Large and At Small by Anne Fadiman: "Coffee." Fadiman is unparalleled as an essayist. She is bright, erudite, researches exquisitely and almost always injects a good amount of humor into her essays. Her other book of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader was one of my favorite reads last year and a must-read for book lovers. At Large and at Small hasn't grabbed me as much, but every essay I've read from it is stellar. Coffee lover that I am, this one spoke to me (with "a certain...velocity"). In describing learning how to use a French press, Fadiman writes, "The whole process involved a good deal of screwing and unscrewing and trying not to make too much of a mess. Truth to tell, it was a lot like sex, and as soon as you'd done it once, you wanted to do it again and again and again."
  • From The New York Times Sunday Book Review April 6th (online version): "There Will Be a Quiz" by Joe Queenan. Very funny essay about the increasingly popular reader guides popping up on the back pages of trade paperbacks. Apparently some of these are written by freelancers - Queenan quotes a few astonishingly inappropriate questions and then comes up with a few of his own, e.g.: "Wuthering Heights: If Heathcliff were alive today, would he mention Cathy’s death on his Facebook page and change his relationship status to 'It’s complicated'?"
  • From Writing with Intent by Margaret Atwood: "Napoleon's Two Biggest Mistakes." Thought this would be appropriate to my War and Peace reading. Turns out it's also appropriate to the current US administration's imperialistic wet dream. Atwood writes of Napoleon: "He had laudable motives, or so his spin-doctoring went: he wanted peace, justice, and European unity. But he thought it would be liberating for other countries to have their stifling religious practices junked and their political systems replaced with one like his.... Present leaders take note: ... your version of what's good for them may not match theirs." And from the same Margaret Atwood collection: "Letter to America" (in which the Canadian author decries the usurping of civil liberties and the milieu of fear in the US since 9/11) and "Writing Oryx and Crake."

  • From The Best American Essays 1992: "On Seeing England for the First Time" by Jamaica Kincaid (originally published in Transition). This is also an essay about imperialism, from the perspective of the conquered. Kincaid, born in Antigua, writes with searing poignancy about the juxtaposition of being taught allegiance to "proper" England, yet living a reality that is very different. She writes, "The space between the idea of something and its reality is always wide and deep and dark...the existence of the world as I came to know it was a result of this: idea of thing over here, reality of thing way, way over there." And: "...who are these people who forced me to think of them all the time, who forced me to think that the world I knew was incomplete, or without substance, or did not measure up because it was not England; that I was incomplete or without substance, and did not measure up because I was not English?" This is a remarkable essay that is an example of the justified anger Barack Obama referred to in his recent speech about race.

I'm also reading I also read another Kazuo Ishiguro novel - The Remains of the Day. Couldn't put it down, even though it's almost all monologue in very proper English. He is a phenomenal writer! Such consistency of voice in the narrator. I love "discovering" a new author. I will definitely read the rest of his books. (4.5/5)

And I've made significant progress on War and Peace this weekend. My little turtle is on the move!

Next Sunday: poetry!!!! Something I confess I rarely read and often struggle with. There, I said it. I am gathering some of my favorite poets for the experience. Well, I'm gathering their books, not the actual poets.


Andi said...

This is SUCH an alluring post! I just adore essays and I see lots of great possibilities here. I'm especially interested in the Atwood collection.

One of the best books of essays I've ever read is called A Plea for Eros, by Siri Hustvedt. I don't know if you're familiar with her work, but she writes fantastic fiction, too. I think you'd love her essays.

Terri said...

Hiya Andi, I love it when you stop by. Want some COFFEE?

I haven't read much of the Atwood book yet, but there are some gems. Lots of essays and book reviews. Have you read either of the Fadiman collections? I think you'd love both.

Happy Sunday!

Jill said...

Hi, Terri: Your comment about Atwood essays reminded me that I too have a collection of her essays sitting on my shelf. The collection is entitled "Negotiating With the Dead." I really don't know what nuggets of wisdom are contained within, but it's Atwood so I couldn't go wrong.

I hope you continue to feel better!

Jill =)

Irish said...

Hi Terri...another great post. I can't wait to see what poets/poems that you select for next week. If you need any suggestions let me know. I love poetry and as April is National Poetry Month I have a lot of it on hand for my celebration. My celebration involves sending out a poem a day to my friends and family.

You should defiantly read some of the poems of Dorothy Parker. IMO she is a very talented poet. =)

Irish said...

I signed off without telling you that I've also been posting my daily poetry selection on my MySpace blog. If you are interested you can check it out here:

Wendy said...

Thanks for a fabulous post, Terri. I really need to read Fadiman - and I've never read any of Atwood's essays, but know i will relate to them...*laughing about your reference to US imperialist wet dreams!*

Pour of Tor said...

What a great post! I am very glad to have these notes on essays, since it seems very likely that I will be teaching at least a couple of courses on reading and writing the personal essay (or creative non-fiction) next year. And hurrah to Anne Fadiman, who is one of my favorites.

Meanwhile, I too love Ishiguro, although actually of the four I read I have only had a 50% success rate (I loved "Remains of the Day" and "Artist of the Floating World," which has a lot in common with ROTD, disliked "When we were Orphans," and only moderately liked "Never Let me Go." ("The Unconsoled" and "A Pale View of Hills" both sit unread on my shelf.) But "Remains" has to be one of the most flawless books I have ever read (it just kept improving upon each of three rereadings), so I will continue to trust his books indefinitely!

Anonymous said...

I love essays. I really must get hold of the new Fadiman collection; Ex Libris is one of my all time favourites. The local Oxfam shop has a copy of George Orwell's essays that I've been coveting but for a second hand shop they are asking a tremendous price. I'm hanging on to see if they get round to reducing it. I don't think it's going to sell (I hope).