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June 2018

The Essay Project 2018: Do essays age well?

So, I've decided just to go with this new loosey-goosey thing we have going at Citizen Reader. Sure, we have an actual Essay Project Schedule (look over in the sidebar), but other than that this reading of certain essay collections and talking about them has been a pretty free-form affair.

And I'm kind of liking it!

So I'm just going to pose questions as I have them. At the moment I am reading, in a very leisurely manner, David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (which is funny, because reading that book was a supposedly fun thing that I never thought I'd be doing again), as well as David Rakoff's collections Fraud and Half Empty.

Now the first thought I had about these books was, holy shit, I forgot how dense and long that DFW book was. So here's your official Get Out of Essay Reading Free card: don't read the whole thing. Let's just suggest the essay that matches the title, shall we? (Although, actually, I think the first essay, on tennis, is my favorite).

And the second thought I had, while re-reading Fraud, is that I just wasn't enjoying it as much as I did the first time around**. Is that because they are essays that didn't stand the test of time, or (the more likely option) am I just such a different person reading this collection that it's actually like reading a completely different collection?

I know. I actually blew my own mind a little bit, but I don't have a lot of mind to blow so it's easily done.

So my question is this: Do you think, as a general rule, that essay collections "age" very well? What makes an essay (or collection of them) "timeless"?

*No, Half Empty was not assigned reading. I just wasn't feeling Fraud and thought I'd try another collection of Rakoff's to see how that felt.

**This is no slap at Rakoff. If I wasn't enjoying the actual essays or the subjects of the essays as much, I was still loving the person it seemed Rakoff was.

Teeny Tiny Review: Tales of Two Americas.

I liked Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, edited by John Freeman, just okay.

If you'll remember, this one got a lot of press when it came out at the end of last year.

It's a collection of essays and short stories and includes contributions by Rebecca Solnit, Sandra Cisneros, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oates, Roxanne Gay, and Ann Patchett (among many others).

Two things: I'm just kind of done with books like this for now. I can see the two Americas quite clearly from where I live (in my suburban town, I know people who lived in the ritziest sprawl neighborhoods around, who send their kids to a school where 17% of kids get free and reduced-price lunches, and I know people who live in decidedly not-ritzy apartments and send their kids to a school where 41% of the kids get free and reduced lunches. Also I've read a lot of books like this.

Secondly, this book mixed essays with stories, and I DO NOT LIKE THAT. And if you do that, here's what I need: at the head of each chapter, along with the title and author name, you have to list "Fiction" or "Essay." Because I am LAZY with a capital L and I do not like trying to figure out what each chapter is. It's not hard, based on author and style, but still, you should be able to pick up a collection like this and not have to know who all the authors are to figure out what they're writing. Very annoying, and it detracted from the attention I was able to give this collection.

Oh, Anthony Bourdain.

If you did not see the news, chef/author/TV host/world traveler Anthony Bourdain died on Saturday, in Paris.

There is no shortage of tributes to Bourdain. But I would just like to say, I really loved reading Anthony Bourdain. I put his memoir Kitchen Confidential on my list of best Memoirs, the man could even write a must-read essay about the state of New Jersey, and even when I was wondering if he had jumped the shark, I still loved him.

Also: no one could swear like Anthony Bourdain. No one. I'm so sorry for your loss, world, of Anthony Bourdain.*

*And what a loss it is. Anyone who would say this about Henry Kissinger and stand by it is an American hero.

Teeny Tiny Review: Glenn Greenwald's "No Place to Hide."

Briefly this year I toyed with the idea of signing up for Goodreads, because Readers I love and trust tell me it's a handy site for tracking their reading.

But Goodreads is owned by Amazon and therefore I don't want to touch it. I mean, I don't think jerkiness is catching, but the less I have to do with Jeff Bezos, the better.

So I'm going to keep listing what I read here, just because I'm getting increasingly old and sometimes it's nice to have a record of what one has read. And what I read last month was journalist Glenn Greenwald's investigative book No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.

Now, I love Edward Snowden, as I love all whistleblowers, and I'm neutral on Glenn Greenwald, although I like journalists who work with whistleblowers as well. But I just did not find that book this interesting. Although he does eventually get around to explaining some of the information Snowden revealed, and why it was so shocking, that seemed to be buried in the middle of the book. A lot of the first hundred pages dealt mainly with how Snowden found Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras and identified them as the individuals he wanted to publish the documents he could provide. It's interesting in its own way, but mainly it's just too much Greenwald. Although I did enjoy how honest Greenwald was about how lazy he was when first contacted by the source who would turn out to be Snowden; basically, Greenwald couldn't be bothered to set up encrypted email, even though the source tried to teach him how to do it. Now, I couldn't do it either, but I am also not a world-class investigative journalist. Seemed a little weak.

In the meantime I would still like to see the movie Citizenfour, about Snowden. Has anyone seen it? I also want to re-watch his interview with John Oliver.


Happy June!

Dearest readers,

It's June. In no way am I ready for it to be June. But, for various reasons, May wasn't the greatest month ever. So, it's okay that we have to keep moving forward, ever forward.

Which means that it's time to discuss our Essay Project 2018 June and July choices! You'll remember I set us an ambitious slate: three essay collections by three quite different Davids: Fraud by David Rakoff, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace, and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I'm going to do them in that order myself, and will pose questions here throughout June and July; please join us in the comments! Toward the end of July we'll start to consider the Three Davids and how their essay styles compare. Because it's just not a Lit Thang until you have a good old-fashioned compare 'n contrast session.

In other news I have finally gotten my act quasi-together and have posted a printable over in the sidebar titled Essay Project 2018 Schedule. It's a Word document listing the books we'll read the rest of the year. We still need to pick an essay collection for September, so put your thinking caps on (do people still use that phrase?) and make some suggestions!