Fabulous Five Friday: Five Great Essay Collections
Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion
There is no denying that Didion is the queen of the essay form. Bethlehem is one of her earliest collections, but it’s still my favorite. Though some might find the essays rooted in the current events of the 1960s a bit dated, her personal essays are timeless. Some of her best known pieces come from this collection, like “On Keeping a Notebook,” “On Self-Respect,” and “On Going Home.”
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Anne Fadiman is a book person after my own heart, only smarter and more articulate. Each essay looks at a personal experience with reading, like learning to love reading by watching her parents, or her family’s obsession with finding errors in their books. Her whole family is bookish and weird and really fun to read about.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This collection is not so much a direct analysis of feminism as it is simply a collection of Gay’s pieces from all over the internet. She focuses so much on feminism, directly and indirectly, that the title is still pretty spot-on. The essays cover everything from the day-to-day struggle of being a POC in academia to what it’s like to compete in a Scrabble tournament. Her pop culture criticism is both incisive and highly personal, which something I strive for in my own criticism and she makes for a fantastic teacher.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
This collection got a lot of buzz when it came out, and for good reason. Jamison writes highly personal essays on the experience of empathy in a style that seems meandering but always comes together in perfect but surprising ways.
Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light edited by Penelope Rowlands
Writers—some famous, some less so—write about visiting or living in modern Paris. The different voices and experiences each capture something unique about the city and about what it’s like to be in a famous place that contains so many contradictions. Like with all anthologies, I found some more interesting than others, but none were disappointing.