Firstly, if this kind of thread has been done before, direct me in the direction of it and lock/close this thing.
Having devoured John Jereimah Sullivan's Pulphead recently, I'm in the mood for reading more collections of longform essays/magazine pieces/cultural critiques. Two questions follow this.
1) What - as someone who has only really read this kind of stuff in-depth by Sullivan, Jonathan Lethem, David Foster Wallace and Joan Didion - should I tuck into next?
2) what're your favourite essay collections?
― the Shearer of simulated snowsex etc. (Dwight Yorke), Tuesday, 29 January 2013 10:06 (nine years ago) link
This is a genre I just can't do for some reason. I keep acquiring volumes of what look like fabulous pieces by Updike, Martin Amis, Anthony Lane and many others - but when the time comes it's never what I want to be reading.
Even the rare occasions I've pushed through and enjoyed them, and I know there are some, I can't for the life of me remember. No idea why this should be.
― Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 29 January 2013 10:14 (nine years ago) link
daaamn, how did I forget Amis in my original post. 'The War Against Cliche' is the bomb.
― the Shearer of simulated snowsex etc. (Dwight Yorke), Tuesday, 29 January 2013 10:51 (nine years ago) link
I've recently quite dug Magic Hours by Tom Bissell and Geoff Dyer's Otherwise Known As The Human Condition.
Selected Non-Fictions by Borges. That one comes immediately to mind, but there are almost certainly a few other contenders - I'll get back to it.
― "Rob is startled, this is straight up gangster" (R Baez), Tuesday, 29 January 2013 13:48 (nine years ago) link
dwight sorry i didn't get back to you. i'll think of some stuff for this thread...
― scott seward, Tuesday, 29 January 2013 14:35 (nine years ago) link
Have you read any Tom Wolfe? That might be a good jump. Or Mailer's50s/60s essays?
On the more British/Lit side:Obvs Christopher Hitchens (Like others round here, I think Unacknowledged Legislation is the pick of the essay collections. But is one of the newer books a best-of?)Cyril Connolly (The two volume selected is good, Enemies of Promise in there (split in two annoyingly), which is my favourite thing by him. I find him not-quite-there in general, but that's brilliant)Clive James (v readable, all the essay collections are enjoyable even when irritating)Kingsley Amis? (Fizzles or someone might be better placed to recommend, but I remember 'The Amis Collection' being a good compilation of his non-fiction). Orwell I guess (bores bang on about him too much, I get challopsy & forget how good the essays are).
― woof, Tuesday, 29 January 2013 15:17 (nine years ago) link
I wonder if Orwell would've written more about pop culture if he'd lived on into the 50s? I liked what he wrote about naughty seaside post cards, detective novels, and he dug Tropic of Cancer, so maybe the Beat Generation--? Also good on proproganda, shooting elephants, everything else (his school-survivor memoir!). Enjoyed Graham Greene's Collected Essays, especially when he's tunneling back into all sorts of strange/not recently examined Brit lit, while just occasionally mentioning the Great Depression and approaching drone of WWII; he knows there's no escape, but these pieces are safety valves, and their own kind of rallying cries: the books he's sometimes goofing on, and the right/means to goof are part of what we're fighting for. And eventually, there's a party or three in Batista's Havana.
― dow, Tuesday, 29 January 2013 19:03 (nine years ago) link
But currently tripping on The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2012.
― dow, Tuesday, 29 January 2013 19:06 (nine years ago) link
i'd throw in something by mary mccarthy -- i can't remember the name of the one i read in college but looks like there's a newish one called 'a bolt from the blue' that collects everything. her salinger takedown is not so hot, but everything else i've read is fantastic.
― (The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 30 January 2013 06:13 (nine years ago) link
i loved tom wolfe's nonfiction when i was a teen -- the old stuff -- but don't know how well it holds up. 'a collection of essays' is the classic orwell compilation and still a good introduction i think.
― (The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 30 January 2013 06:21 (nine years ago) link
I agree about Wolfe, The Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby and The Pump House Gang were teenage faves that seem dated now. My favorite in this genre is Martin Amis' The War Against Cliche though it's all book reviews. Arguably his best book (including the novels - I said arguably) though his collection of miscellaneous articles, The Moronic Inferno isn't far behind and is well worth your time, interviews with Hugh Hefner, Gloria Steinem, Gore Vidal and others are priceless. Written in the 80s when he wielded a sharper scalpel with a lighter touch.
I worshipped at the altar of Joan Didion's The White Album when I first read it in back in 1980, not sure how it's held up either.
The grumpy grandfather of this genre has to be Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself. Inconsistent and infuriating also incandescent in spots, like old Norm himself. A grab-bag of articles, reviews, rants, letters to the editor and a creepy/brilliant short story, The Time of Her Time.
― screen scraper (m coleman), Wednesday, 30 January 2013 10:59 (nine years ago) link
deep in the bowels of Advertisements, Mailer kind of invents the "listicle" with a what is/isn't hip inventory
― screen scraper (m coleman), Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:06 (nine years ago) link
Never connected w/classic New Yorker guys like A.J. Liebling & Joseph Mitchell. But buy a Dorothy Parker anthology - you'll be glad did!
― screen scraper (m coleman), Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:11 (nine years ago) link
Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell is p terrific, imho - in the uk it's available in a collection of Mitchell's New Yorker essays entitled Up in the Old Hotel.
Talking of New Yorker contributors, there's an anthology of essays by Janet Malcolm coming out later this year entitled Fourty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, which I'm sure will be amazing. Malcolm is prob my fave non-fiction writer ever and her earlier anthology, The Purloined Clinic (which includes a lot of her writing on psychoanalysis), is well worth hunting down.
― Ward Fowler, Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:26 (nine years ago) link
Malcolm's infamous self-defense re fucking over her writing-object, Jeffrey Moussaieff AKA Masson ("yeah, I'm a lying sack of shit; that's what journalism is; get over it"), while discussing Joe McGinnis, is something I can't get past, like Hitchens' asshole pronouncements re Monicagate, and, much worse, 9/11, which he enjoyed a little too much ("a feeling of great excitement---let the battle be engaged!") and expert advice on how to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mailer's Cannibals and Christians is another erratically good-to-excellent collection--mostly in that range, I think (he immediately notices the new young hipsters running around the '64 Presidential Convention, sporting crewcuts, shades, smirks, skinny suits). Also at least one dire self-interview.
― dow, Wednesday, 30 January 2013 14:42 (nine years ago) link
The Portable Dorothy Parker has some awesome short stories, though the cutie-pie theatre reviews will take me some getting used to.
― dow, Wednesday, 30 January 2013 14:45 (nine years ago) link
i like parker's stories, but the reviews in that book are a bit of a slog for me. iirc the only thing she reviewed that i'd even heard of was 'the house at pooh corner' (which she hated!).
― (The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 30 January 2013 22:14 (nine years ago) link
yeah I wish she'd gotten away from reviewing--how are her plays?
― dow, Wednesday, 30 January 2013 22:17 (nine years ago) link
I'm very fond of Cynthia Ozick's essays. Try the book _Quarrel & Quandary_ for instance. Happily, Patrick Kurp has just made a post on essays and Ozick at Anecdotal Evidence, which includes some other recommendations: A Comely and Muscular Sentence. Kurp's a great enthusiast for Guy Davenport, whose _The Geography of the Imagination_ I see recommended in all sorts of places, but haven't gotten around to.William Gass is another novelist who's just as good (possibly better) as an essayist.
Hrm, I think I have an old paperback of the portable Dorothy Parker which I've for some reason never really looked at. Sheesh. Do any of you guys have any favorite pieces in there to start off with? I'm trying to wean myself of my completist impulses to reading large collections like this, unless it really does turn out to nearly all be great, of course.
― Øystein, Friday, 1 February 2013 21:33 (nine years ago) link
I like Ozick's fiction better than her essays, but haven't read a whole collection. Start with any of Parker's short stories, especially "Big Blonde." Also the one about the married couple trying to get past unexpected difficulties, before he has to go back to war.
― dow, Saturday, 2 February 2013 00:16 (nine years ago) link
dow i think you're being p harsh on malcolm - as i understand it, masson sued her for allegedly fabricating or altering interview material, but that malcolm ultimately won in court. whereas mcginnis lost in a court case taken out by the subject of one of his non-fiction true crime books, 'the murderer' explicitly accusing 'the journalist' of deceiving him by pretending to be his friend in order to get closer. malcolm's book abt the affair is a bit more nuanced than 'i'm a lying sack of shit' - it can really be read as a warning to interview subjects to BEWARE
― Ward Fowler, Saturday, 2 February 2013 22:48 (nine years ago) link
her defense seemed to be "journalism incl poetic license," if I try to recall it with more nuance---not that she explicitly said "yeah I did it ha-ha", but seemed to be the implication, also that it was no worse than what McGinnis did (which was to report/claim that MacDonald gave him a memo written before the murders, along the lines of, "note to self: cut back on the speed, causing bad episodes"--and that MacDonald was so used to bullshitting his celebrity benefactors that he thought even this could be spun). The way I took it was just hard to get past, but maybe if I read it again, now that I've conducted some interviews, it would seem more credible.
― dow, Sunday, 3 February 2013 00:07 (nine years ago) link
but all that really was a long time ago; I prob shouldn't even bring it up without re-reading, sorry.
― dow, Sunday, 3 February 2013 00:10 (nine years ago) link
Uh-oh, here's the very first sentence of The Journalist and the Murderer: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” That statement is indefensible. But that doesn't mean she wasn't right about some things later on--just that her bullshit pronouncents are hard to get past (if she feels like her own work is morally indefensible, why did she mount a legal defense, unless she did mean, "whatever I did or didn't quite do, it's all in the game").
― dow, Sunday, 3 February 2013 00:27 (nine years ago) link
late to this, will be following attentively: feel it's something I particularly like the US styles/tones of.
Kingsley Amis? (Fizzles or someone might be better placed to recommend, but I remember 'The Amis Collection' being a good compilation of his non-fiction).
― Say Bo to a (Fizzles), Sunday, 3 February 2013 10:02 (nine years ago) link
dow, i take that opening sentence you so dislike to mean that "the relationship between the journalist and their subject is invariably dishonest", rather than "it's all in the game". this doesn't mean that the subject is not also seeking to exploit the journalist, too, just that ultimately the journalist always holds the upper hand - the power to narrate the subject's own story.
― Ward Fowler, Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:06 (nine years ago) link
I'd second the Ozick essay collections, particularly Art and Ardor
James Wood's The Broken Estate is my favorite of his.
Any collection of Woolf's will do.
The prose of poets (Eliot, Stevens, Marianne Moore, Hecht, J.D. McClatchy) is often sharper than their novelist counterparts'.
― the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:26 (nine years ago) link
second the war against cliche, which has some rly nice stuff about chess and a lol one being mean to robert bly; and obv orwell who cannot be overrated
nabokov's strong opinions is what i grab every time i go to the bathroom without grabbing the bogdanovich/welles book -- it's mostly interviews but he refused to do interviews live so it's really essays
anthony burgess has some fun stuff
the crack-up a kind of classic if you can stand fitzgerald coming over to your house drunk and moping (it's a more authentic parisian experience than a movable feast!)
do not regret buying the anthony lane book at all
― a permanent mental health break (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:36 (nine years ago) link
a lot of saul bellow's it all adds up is kind of boring and cranky but there's a fun one about khrushchev and some good reminiscences about prewar chicago or postwar paris
― a permanent mental health break (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:37 (nine years ago) link
what i grab every time i go to the bathroom without grabbing the bogdanovich/welles book
for a while I just kept the Boggo-Welles book atop my toilet.
― the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:41 (nine years ago) link
going to the boggo
― a permanent mental health break (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:43 (nine years ago) link
Also OTM. If you've read a few Nabokov books (esp. the translations with the opening intros) there's nothing especially new (N. is nothing if not thematically coherent), but, man, he can prose up the same shit over and over again and still delight.
― "Rob is startled, this is straight up gangster" (R Baez), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:43 (nine years ago) link
Nabokov singled out the only Updike story I remember.
― the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 3 February 2013 18:48 (nine years ago) link
Really love to find a solid vol of Woolf's crit. Whenever she is quoted in other ppl's essays its usually awesome and witty like nobody else.
― xyzzzz__, Sunday, 3 February 2013 20:16 (nine years ago) link
The two Common Reader collections, issued in her lifetime, are a fine start.
― the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 3 February 2013 20:20 (nine years ago) link
totally, this is one of my favourite things, we did a bit here:
Prose works by poets
― woof, Sunday, 3 February 2013 20:37 (nine years ago) link
You mention Lethem in the original post, but yeah, The Disappointment Artist was life altering for me. The Ecstasy of Influence is great too, of course, but perhaps comprehensive to a fault (some of this miscellany is inessential even to an avowed fan such as myself).
― Public Brooding Closet (cryptosicko), Monday, 4 February 2013 03:34 (nine years ago) link
C-span (yes the tv network) put out a great big book called Booknotes that's kind of a collection of interviews with authors of American history books edited/reconfigured as "essays". It's fun.
― brimstead, Monday, 4 February 2013 04:09 (nine years ago) link
just remembered that i bought and raced through the Kingsley Amis one mentioned upthread a few summers back and thoroughly enjoyed it (liked it far more than the two novels of his i've read).
― the Shearer of simulated snowsex etc. (Dwight Yorke), Monday, 4 February 2013 10:07 (nine years ago) link