A colleague is particularly fond of the essay, here are three collections she has been raving about:
Anne Carson meets James Baldwin in White Girls, a collection of essays on art, race, sexuality and gender by New Yorker writer Hilton Als, and if that isn’t enough to make you discard your current book in favour of this one, I’m fighting a losing battle. One of the most phenomenally gifted non-fiction writers I’ve ever read, Als is equal parts compassion, innovation and insight. The book begins with a long personal essay on twinship and loss, and moves on to essays about subjects as diverse as white rappers, Truman Capote’s transformation into a woman, and an essay on Louise Brooks written in the style of Louise Brooks. This was my favourite book to come out in 2013. As John Jerimiah Sullivan says; “I defy you to read this book and come away with a mind unchanged.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison is the most anticipated essay collection of 2014. It’s been compared to Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, was the recent winner of The Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, and is being championed by Eleanor Catton who says of it: “[it’s] a book without an anaesthetic. A work of tremendous pleasure and tremendous pain…This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best.” The book begins with Jamison’s recollection of working in a hospital, acting out scripted symptoms for med students, who are being tested on their ability to elicit information from reluctant patients, and moves onto a gut wrenching account of her own experience of the medical system, and its effects on her personal relationships. All her essays have empathy as a focal point, but viewed through the lens of such disparate subjects as “street violence…reality television…poverty tourism… literary sentimentality.” Alternately brutal and compassionate, this book is filled with the kinds of truths we rarely tell ourselves, let alone others.
“I remember the first time I realized the world we are born into is not the one we leave”
Mary Ruefle is a teacher and a poet, or in other words, a professional digresser. Madness, Rack & Honey is her first collection of essays, or ‘lectures’ which I have now read so often it’s missing a front cover. The lectures are mainly about poetry and the craft of writing, but no road is a straight road, when it comes to Ruefle. Structurally innovative, funny and personal, Madness, Rack, and Honey occupies the literary no-mans-land between poetry, autobiography and creative non-fiction. Highlights include Emily Dickinson’s gravesite, “Lectures I Will Never Give,” and “I Remember, I Remember,” a poetic lecture after the fabulous Joe Brainard.