More essays

My essay project is taking off in unexpected directions, which isn’t a bad thing, not at all, but it means the project gets a little bigger every time I give it a little thought. I feel like Tristram Shandy, who is trying to tell his life story but who has so much to tell that every day of his life he falls a little more behind. Every day I find myself backing up and adding more to my reading list.

I originally wanted to focus my essay-reading on John Gross’s Oxford Book of Essays, which I chose not because it’s wonderful, but because I hadn’t yet read it. And I still will use that one. But I realized that Gross’s book has only essays written originally in English — which explains the otherwise inexplicable absence of Montaigne — and I prefer to include some essays in translation. So I got out Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay to give it another look-through and I realized that there are many essays in there I haven’t yet read. So I’m going to read essays from that book too.

Then I discovered that Lopate begins his essay survey with some essays from classical writers such as Seneca and Plutarch, and I decided I’d better back up and begin not with Bacon, but with these early writers. And then I read the first selection from Seneca and loved it, and so now I’ve got Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic on order from Amazon — and if you’re wondering why I’m ordering letters for an essay project, it’s because Lopate calls the letters “essays in disguise.” So, I’m now planning on reading the Seneca book, Montaigne’s complete essays, and then Bacon’s essays. And who knows where I’ll go from there, or if I’ll even get that far before I discover a new author whose work I need to read more fully.

This is fun, but will I ever actually make any progress? Who knows.

7 Comments

Filed under Books, Essays

7 responses to “More essays

  1. But you are making progress, just not the kind you expected :)

    That’s also the problem with projects. They begin so small and innocently and then before you know it you’ve got fifty books to read instead of one or two. Fun, isn’t it?

  2. Actually I think you’re making lots of progress, too. Instead of reading one narrow group of essays you are really going to get a very good survey when you’re finished (of course with a project like this, are you ever finished?!). I’ll have to check out this Oxford Book of Essays. I have the Lopate by my bed. I always mean to pick it up and read at random. Eventually (like everything else).

  3. I love “On Noise”…it makes me laugh to compare the noises of ancient Rome to the noise of contemporary society.

  4. hepzibah

    This sounds great dorothy — what inspired you to choose these authors?

  5. This sounds so, so familiar. It IS fun though, isn’t it? In its overwhelming way?

    There are people who come into the store for a book who leave, having been unable to find a single thing! Can you imagine? Much better to have a list a mile long.

  6. You need to step away from all these essay books and just start reading! That’s it, step away slooowly, slowwly – just kidding. that is the problem with reading projects, isn’t it? One begets another begets another…I love Lopate’s book – it’s incredible.

  7. That’s the way to think about it Stefanie! I’m making progress in essay collecting! :)

    Danielle — no, I’ll never finish it (which isn’t a bad thing), and it’s definitely better to have a more diverse selection and to read a bit more widely.

    Jenclair — yes, I love it too, and I want to post on it one of these days.

    Hepzibah — I’m guided by my two essay collections, the Lopate and the Gross; the Lopate I have from a college course in the essay (which was a fabulous class and responsible for my current love of essays) and the Gross I found somewhere, I don’t remember where. But it’s got a lot the Lopate doesn’t have and so looks good.

    Diana — so much better! And I’m glad I’m not alone in this crazy project-making business :)

    Courtney — yes, and I’ll make sure to read at least one essay tonight, just to put you at ease :)

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