Well-Read: 5 Addictive Essay Collections
When choosing my next read, sometimes I’m in the mood for something with less of a time investment. That’s when I pull a collection of essays down from the shelf. Many are edited by favorite authors and include stories from others. Often I will read an essay from someone I haven’t read and will then go on to read other books from that author. One thing you’ll notice that these books have in common – unusually long titles!
Humor Me – An Anthology of Funny Contemporary Writing, edited by Ian Frazier
The ability to write funny stuff has got to be one of the most difficult forms of writing. I am in awe of the fabulous writers who have the ability to make me laugh. Humor Me includes essays from some of the best – Andy Borowitz, Jack Handey, Patricia Marx, Grace Paley and David Sedaris to name a few. In Sedaris’ “A Plague of Tics” he talks about his third grade teacher, Miss Chestnut, and the note she sends home asking to visit to discuss his “special problems.” By poking fun at his own affliction the power is all his! The legendary Grace Paley tells a story about the time she was in jail for six days in her own neighborhood of Greenwich Village in the 60’s. This was for civil disobedience and Paley felt her sentence particularly lengthy because the judge’s irritation with the fact that she was a forty-five year old woman and not a college student. As Paley hardly blended with the other inmates she attracted unwanted attention but mentions that she did sleep well while serving her sentence.
About Face—Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror, edited by Ann Burt and Christina Baker Kline
Twenty-five women talk candidly about what they see when they scrutinize their reflection.
In a world that often tells us not to, the stories shared in About Face are about taking a good hard look at who we are and all that encompasses. With a foreword by none other than celebrity makeup artist Bobbi Brown, who talks about the day her mother offered to buy her a nose job, she shares that it’s her job to hold up a mirror to women and encourage them to see what’s really there. “The mirror,” she says, “should be a tool that empowers you, not an instrument of oppression.” (She did not do the nose.) In “The Unseen Wind” Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss, The Binding Chair) talks about the connection to her grandmother and the way each faces her own mortality through the lens of the mirror. Powerful.
The Honeymoon’s Over—True Stories of Love, Marriage and Divorce, edited by Andrea Chapin and Sally Wofford-Girand
The essays in this collection are from some of my favorite writers. They write so vulnerably about such intimate subject matters and by reading their stories many will see their own. From the very public divorce of Terry McMillan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) to Joyce Maynard’s (The Good Daughters) story about the babysitter seducing her husband as she cared for her dying mother, these strong women open up their hearts to their readers. Leslie Lehr (Wife Goes On) centers her story about the day her husband left and her new membership to “Club Divorce.” Rhode Island’s own, Ann Hood, tells her compelling story as only she can. Everything from religious differences to money issues and all types of mistakes are explored and dissected within the twenty-four stories where some stay married and some do not.
The Friend Who Got Away—Twenty Women’s True-Life Tales of Friendships That Blew Up, Burned Out or Faded Away, edited by Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell
Who doesn’t have a story that they could add into this collection? What interests me about this book is that it’s not an often talked about topic. With so many relationship books, this one stands out, as it’s not about divorce, death or the end of a love affair. Losing a friend can be as painful and agonizing yet we hear very little about it. This is another collection that houses many of my favorite authors. Elizabeth Strout (Amy and Isabelle) shares a story about her friendship with Janie and how she always tried to portray her life in a positive way and when it was no longer possible, found it impossible to keep up the friendship. Jennifer Gilmore’s (Something Red) story is about an illness she had as a graduate student, which made her feel less connected to her friends who were all out living the life she, was missing out on. She says, “My old life of wanting – success, recognition, many bylines – was useless to me now.” Sickness had closed her off to her friends.
Feed Me – Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight and Body Image, edited by Harriet Brown
Possibly the hottest topic in this article, food issues and weight seems to be the topics that keep on giving. Every magazine cover to the top news, whether it’s the epidemic of childhood obesity or the actress who finally lost those pesky last five pounds, everyone wants to talk about weight. Feed Me’s editor, Harriet Brown, tells us in the introduction that the one piece of jewelry she always wears is a necklace that contains a single charm—a fork. She wears this to remind herself to celebrate and enjoy food and not to abuse it. One of my favorite authors, Caroline Leavitt, shares a heartbreaking story about her boyfriend Rick and the obsessive way he tried to control her eating. (All while she was a size 4 to 6.)
She knows this is not a healthy relationship but after losing her fiancé, she wants to be in a relationship to blot out the pain. Ultimately it is her friends who surround and feed her that bring her back to herself and to Jeff.
What’s your favorite collection of essays?