The Essay Project

A bit more about Roxane Gay's "Bad Feminist."

Well, I have finished as much as I am going to of Roxane Gay's essay collection Bad Feminist.

We've already had a bit of discussion on this book, and I think we're all agreed that the entire collection could have been edited a bit better (the book is 320 pages long and honestly, I think it could have been trimmed a bit, both in terms of tightening up each essay and also leaving a few out). I think we're also agreed that the book got a lot (perhaps too much?) press; and although I'm often the first to be completely bugged by a book that is overhyped, mostly that bothers me when I don't think such a book merited the hype at all. Does that make sense?

That was not the case (for me) with this collection. I've not read every single last page of the book, but what I did read in it often made me think, or helped me see things from a different angle. It even gave me moments when I could give what I call  "snorts of angry sisterhood laughter."*

As for seeing some things differently? There is her essay "What We Hunger For." Here is some of it:

"When I was in middle school, when I was young--old enough to like a boy but young enough to have no clue what that meant--there was a boy who I thought was my boyfriend and who said he was my boyfriend but who also completely ignored me at school. It's a sad, silly story lots of girls know...

When we were together, he'd tell me what he wanted to do to me. He wasn't asking permission. I was not an unwilling participant. I was not a willing participant. I felt nothing one way or the other. I wanted him to love me. I wanted to make him happy. If doing things to my body made him happy, I would let him do anything to my body. My body was nothing to me. It was just meat and bones around that void he filled by touching me. Technically, we didn't have sex, but we did everything else. The more I gave, the more he took. At school, he continued looking right through me. I was dying but I was happy. I was happy because he was happy, because if I gave enough, he might love me. As an adult, I don't understand how I allowed him to treat me like that. I don't understand how he could be so terrible. I don't understand how desperately I sacrificed myself. I was young." (p. 142.)

There is not really a happy ending to that story. But you should go and read that essay. I'm going to re-read it periodically because it is an unbelievably good essay. I'm going to re-read it periodically to remind myself how important it is that I try to raise the CRjrs to grow up to be people who won't take what women (or anyone) might be desperately sacrificing themselves to give.

Yeah. Hype and all. I liked the book, and I like Roxane Gay.

*One such moment: in her essay "The Alienable Rights of Women," there is this paragraph: "If I told you my birth control method of choice, which I kind of swear by, you'd look at me like I was slightly insane. Suffice it to say, I will take a pill every day when men have that same option. We should all be in this together, right? One of my favorite moments is when a guy, at that certain point in a relationship, says something desperately hopeful like, 'Are you on the pill?' I simply say, 'No, are you?"

To that paragraph I say: AMEN SISTER. I have been waiting for what feels like an eternity to find one other woman to speak this idea aloud. And now I've found her. No matter what else she does I'll love her forever for that paragraph.

Let's chat about 2018, shall we?

I gotta be honest with you: 2018 has been a bit of a shit show.

For me, for family members, for friends; in my small and cranky circle the feeling emphatically seems to be that none of us will be sorry to see the backside of 2018. I hope this is not the case for you. And I hope that your 2019 (and mine) is a fabulous year. It goes against my nature, but hell, I'm out of other ideas, so I'm going to think positively.

One thing that has not sucked has been our Essay Project 2018. I have enjoyed reading some different essay collections, and what I have really enjoyed is talking them over with you. Thank you so much! Keep reading suggestions and comments coming--I think we should keep reading essays in 2019. What do you think?

Now, to housekeeping. I am not yet done with the Roxane Gay and still want to talk about her a little bit more. Although I agree with several commenters here that some of her work could do with a good edit and that her book Bad Feminist was perhaps a touch over-hyped*, I am still finding much to like in her writing.

So, originally for December, we were slated to book-club Garret Keizer's small book Privacy. Frankly, kids, I don't think I have the energy this month. (I used to love baking Christmas cookies. And even that job is kicking my ass this year. Middle age is schooling me.) Would you like to read and discuss it in January? Let's do.

In other news, I took a nostalgic wander through the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018 list last week (I used to love doing that, and critiquing the list, and laughing that I had only ever read like one or two books on it). It was fun as always. More on this later, including my new budding love affair with David Sedaris and his new essay collection Calypso.

What a year: Everything's shit! I'm too lazy to bake Christmas cookies! I'm finally falling in love with David Sedaris! Up is down! Cats and dogs living together in sin!

Get here, 2019. And for chrissake be better, wouldja?

*And I hate the title, which does not really capture the essence of the collection. I think publishers just think sticking "feminist" with any combination of incendiary words in a title will sell books. Lame.

Roxane Gay.

Is anyone reading Roxane Gay's essay collection Bad Feminist? Thoughts?

I have some, but am having difficulty formulating them. For one thing, I didn't think I was going to be able to continue after reading the intro (about being a "bad feminist"). Normally if you say the word "feminist" to me, I just stop listening, because with the exception of Jessa Crispin's manifesto Why I Am Not a Feminist, I have never read anything remotely interesting to me that included the word "feminist."

But I am glad I continued on, because I am actually enjoying Gay's collection. I hope to say more about it specifically in a future post, but my overall reaction so far is that I just really like Roxane Gay. Her writing doesn't set me on fire and I haven't found a whole lot of insights in her stuff, but overall it's put together well and I think her heart is in the right place and I just like her, so I'm willing to spend some time reading her. This is high praise for me lately, as I find most people I meet or read do not improve upon closer acquaintance.*

In other news, I see now that Gay has just announced she will be leaving her professor post at Purdue University.

Oh, and might I just add? I hope that you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. Mine was nice but I'll admit a good part of the thrill is now being done with 50% of the big winter holidays. Yes, you may call me The Grinch.

*I'm sure anyone I meet says the same thing about me.

Citizen Reader, Elsewhere.

Okay, apologies, this is shameless self-promotion, but I got another essay published at!

I Didn't Know How Badly I Wanted a Natural Birth Until It Wasn't an Option.

Also apologies because I know you are probably tired of reading about me and my process of having babies.

Also please note it is November! Ye Gods! Checking the schedule for The Essay Project 2018 in the sidebar at the right, I see we are on Roxanne Gay's essay collection Bad Feminist. Anyone else checked it out yet?


Getting my Wendell Berry in, just under the wire.

Hey everyone. Where did October go?

I know our discussion this month was supposed to be about Wendell Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community, and I'm truly sorry to report that I did not get the entire book read, or any posts done. Because I can tell it is a truly great book. I can tell that mostly because I know how Wendell Berry writes, and I know a lot about how he thinks, and he is RIGHT ON. But I can also tell that it is great because it contains paragraphs like this:

"Most of us get almost all the things we need by buying them; most of us know only vaguely, if at all, where those things come from; and most of us know not at all what damage is involved in their production. We are almost entirely dependent on an economy of which we are almost entirely ignorant. The provenance, for example, not only of the food we buy at the store but of the chemicals, fuels, metals, and other materials necessary to grow, harvest, transport, process, and package that food is almost necessarily a mystery to us. To know the full economic history of a head of supermarket cauliflower would require an immense job of research. To be so completely and so ignorantly dependent on the present abusive food economy certainly defines us as earth abusers. It also defines us as potential victims." (pp. 36-37.)

He's got something like that on almost every page. It's so true it's exhausting. But at one point he talks about "good work," and what he means by that phrase. Trust me, reading this book would be "good work." I'm still not fully back on my reading game, but I'm going to continue with this one, however long it takes me.

Welcome to October: and Wendell Berry.

I gotta be honest with you: this autumn is turning out to be a bit of a shitstorm.

I mean, it's fine and all. We're good, generally. But you've got to let me kvetch just a bit about our Midwestern autumn. It's turning out just like our Midwestern spring was this year: aggressively dreary, cold-ish, WET. Now, I live for fall. I live for autumn sunshine that is warmer than spring sunshine and autumn breezes that are crisper than spring breezes. I live for the changing colors of leaves, and the dry skittering of leaves on the road. I live for they drying out and rustling of corn, and the bright orange of pumpkins glowing in the sun. And I am getting NONE of that. Seeing as how a nice autumn season of two to three weeks of nice 65-degree weather and fall light is pretty much one of the only reasons I live in Wisconsin, this lack of a nice fall is seriously chapping my hide. (All the more so because autumn 2017 was a lot like it--wet, dreary, stupid.)

Okay. I think I have it out of my system. Thank you.

Now: to close out September? I can't say I was crazy about Leslie Jamison's The Best American Essays 2017. Too dark, even for me. But I did find one essay I liked very much, Bernard Farai Matambo's "Working the City," about how he and another friend from Harare, Zimbabwe, were accepted to universities in the United States, and then spent their time "working their city," that is, visiting every office or business or friend's house or embassy to ask for funds to help them make it to the United States. Something about it was so hopeful and so honest and so nice:

"But Cato and I have a plan. We are approaching everyone and anyone we think may have money to five our way. We have written letters of inquiry to banks, members of Parliament, government ministries, airlines, government ministers, nongovernmental organizations--both domestic and international, private and public corporations, and general citizens known for charitable works or their good economic standing, a list that includes pastors, churchgoing men and women, and the wives of army generals. Cato has even written letters to embassies all over the city...

You never know, he said. And it wasn't my destiny to stop him.

It must have been all that talk of oil wealth that gave him the nerve, that our desire to leave no stone in this city unturned. We are trying out every rock that may move." (p. 106.)

I can't describe it. But it was hopeful and scrappy and remarkably free of malice, considering the author was having to leave no stone unturned just to try and find the money to get to the country where his education was waiting. I really liked it.

But now, it is October. Is everyone ready for Wendell Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community?


September so far.

Has anyone picked up a copy of the Best American Essays 2017, our September Essay Project pick?

I have, but I have been rather scattershot in reading it. When faced with "Best" collections I first scan for names that might interest me, then titles, then I read a paragraph and decide if I'm interested. So far I have looked at about five or six essays in this collection, and decided to read one. The two I read I liked very much (Emily Maloney's "Cost of Living" and Kenneth McClane's "Sparrow Needy," about his brother), but I'll be honest, I'm having trouble dipping into the collection. I wish I didn't know it was edited by Leslie Jamison. I'm not a Leslie Jamison fan, and I think it's affecting my willingness to read what's on offer here. 

In other news I read Laura Jean Baker's memoir The Motherhood Affidavits, about her having five kids because it helped provide natural oxytocin to offset her depression, intermingled with stories from her criminal defense attorney husband's clients in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I read the whole thing, but I can't decide how I feel about it.

Last but not least I have started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to the CRjrs. They are totally addicted to it, which makes for a nice change from their Lego addiction.

Have a nice week, all.

The Essay Project 2018: On to September.

If you'll remember, a while back we were discussing what essays to read during September. MB in the comments suggested The Best American Essays 2017, and I think that sounds like an excellent choice. Hopefully it will be a bit easier going than Joan Didion.

Although I must say I enjoyed the Didion (although perhaps "enjoyed" isn't the right word--"am still digesting" might come closer to the mark), and I have now gone down a Didion rabbit-hole where I'm reading her essays, her memoirs, a memoir by her husband John Gregory Dunne, etc., and am having way too many long conversations with my sister about what is going on in Joan Didion's head and heart.*

Any last thoughts on Didion out there? Please let us know.

Otherwise? Get thee a copy of Best American Essays of 2017 and let's have at. Enjoy the rest of your week!

*Although I enjoy the conversations, and there "enjoy" is the right word. Wholeheartedly. Thanks, dear.

The Essay Project 2018: Joan Didion, the right writer for this time in my life.

It's still August, which means our Essay Project assigned reading is still Joan Didion's The White Album.

Have you ever had that feeling that you've read an author for a long time, or here and there, and you generally like them, think they are good at their trade, and then one day you're reading them and you're like, WOW, I am getting this like I have never gotten this before.

This is the experience I am having with Joan Didion's The White Album.

Not so much the first essay (after which the collection is named). That is still not my favorite essay, although it is one of her best known, and I'm still wondering at the craft of it. I like the bold opening statement ("We tell ourselves stories in order to live"). I mean, that's the kind of statement you could think about and parse for a long time. And I really like her formulation of this sentence:"By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968." Why "does not now seem to me an inappropriate response"? Why not simply "seems to me now an entirely appropriate response."? There must be a reason.

But anyway. Where I'm finding I'm completely in concert with Didion at this time in my life is a lot of small moments in a lot of her smaller essays. I LOVE the essay "Holy Water," when she learns about how water moves and is moved around her home state of California; I love the science of it mixed with the pragmatism and the language and imagery. I love how SHE loves learning about the water. I love that she wants to stay in the "water control center" and move the water around herself: "I had no further business in this room and yet I wanted to stay the day. I wanted to be the one, that day, who was shining the olives, filling the gardens, and flooding the daylong valleys like the Nile. I want it still."

I can hear the desire there, for power, for control, to give life. I can feel it. So then I saw at the bottom of this essay, it was written (or published) in 1977. Didion was born in 1934. She wrote that essay when she was 43. In other words? Exactly the same age I am now. Is this why it's resonating so? Especially the essays that seem to do plenty on their surface and do even more underneath? Because that is how I feel some days on this Earth: I want to stay the day and exert some life-giving control too.

I'm knocked over by this book.

Has anyone started their Joan Didion yet?

I have!

And I think I've read the whole thing before (The White Album, I'm talking about), but periodically I seem to forget that I've read it. Then I pick it up and I read the first essay, and then I start skipping around, and while reading it, I feel all unsettled and psychically itchy and uncomfortable and it seems to me that the earlier times I've read it, I've read it the exact same way, and maybe that's why I never remember that I have actually read the whole book, several times.

Wow. And those right there are a couple of sentences that would probably make Joan Didion cry. The very opposite of good writing.

Anyway. Please let me know if you've started The White Album and how you're finding it. I started it again and came across this, which of course I remembered, because it is very memorable (when commenting on her own physical and mental state at the time):

"By way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968." (p. 15.)

And it strikes me that we are reading this essay fifty years on from 1968, and that is in-fucking-credible to me, how long this woman has been living and thinking and writing. (Also I couldn't agree more. An attack of vertigo and nausea seems to me an entirely appropriate response to 2018. The more things change, eh?)

The Three Davids: Last thoughts?

(A long one today; bear with me...)

July is flying by and it's time to weigh in with any thoughts or questions you might have about David Rakoff's Fraud, David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day, or David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (or any other books by any of the Davids).


Okay, I'll say this. I didn't enjoy any of the Davids quite as much as I used to (with the exception of David Sedaris--I was always pretty meh* on David Sedaris). But there were definitely moments in each of these books that made me pause or laugh or think lovingly on the David in question--and recapture a bit of the feeling of my own more wide-open and accepting younger years, during which I first read these authors. And I enjoyed that quite a lot. So maybe essays, even the dated and not-as-eternal ones, are timeless in their own ways.

Here's a tidbit from each of the books that I enjoyed.

From David Rakoff's Fraud, okay, wait, I lied, this is from Rakoff's later collection Half Full, which I also re-read for this project, in an essay about the musical Rent and its author, Jonathan Larson:

"Larson worked for years at a diner right around the corner from an apartment I once had. Restaurant work can be punishing and thankless toil, so he is to be applauded for plying his craft so steadfastly after what must have been long shifts on his feet. His is the story of almost every artist. Why, then, in transmuting his own struggle did he so completely drop the ball? (And to those of you who say that dumbing down and sugaring up is innate to musical theater, I say fuck you, homophobe. Go listen to the dark brilliance of Pal Joey or Floyd Collins and then come and talk to me.)" (p. 50.)

I have never seen the musical Rent. I really have no opinion on musical theater, one way or the other. But that entire paragraph just charmed me. There's something so succinctly dismissive about his "fuck you, homophobe" bit that I just fell a little bit in love with him all over again.

From David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day, in an essay where Sedaris is describing his younger brother Paul:

"It often seems that my brother and I were raised in two completely different households. He's eleven years younger than I am, and by the time he reached high school, the rest of us had all left home. When I was young, we weren't allowed to say 'shut up,' but once the Rooster [his brother] hit puberty it had become acceptable to shout, 'Shut your motherfucking hole.' The drug laws had changed as well. 'No smoking pot' became 'no smoking pot in the house,' before it finally petered out to 'please don't smoke any more pot in the living room.'

My mother was, for the most part, delighted with my brother and regarded him with the bemused curiosity of a brood hen discovering she has hatched a completely different species. 'I think it was very nice of Paul to get me this vase,' she once said, arranging a bouquet of wildflowers into the skull-shaped bong my brother had left on the dining-room table. 'It's nontraditional, but that's the Rooster's way. He's a free spirit, and we're lucky to have him.'" (p. 62.)

Sedaris's stories about his family are always my favorites, and that one is no exception. Seeing how different the CRjrs are from each other also helps me appreciate that story on a whole other level.

From David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Okay, all the quotes I love from the DFW are too long and too difficult to quote out of context. But I enjoyed several of these essays again, particularly the first one about tennis and the one where he visits the Illinois State Fair, and because I've listened to his commencement speech titled "This Is Water" way too many times, I can almost hear him narrating these essays. Which is kind of comforting, actually.

But after I re-read those essays I have a conversation with a friend about Wallace, in which she calls him an abuser, and I never followed up what she meant. Was he an abuser? Of others, in relationships? Of himself? Both? I don't follow it up because sometimes I just don't want to know. If he was an abuser, should he not have been? Well, of course. Can I still read him, even knowing this? And the answer is, yeah, I can. Weirdly, even though I know J.D. Salinger could be a complete shit (especially to Joyce Maynard), I still think his novel Franny and Zooey is one of my favorite spiritual books. How does that work?

I suppose it works because humans are messy (myself included), and I know that, and I try to accept it. Just because someone can put a nice sentence together doesn't mean they're going to be a nice person. They may certainly not even be a person I want to know or converse with in real life.

And there's one of the kickers about essays: I love them because, more than any other form of writing, they feel like a conversation to me. Most importantly, they are a conversation in written word form, which is my favorite type of conversation. I love essays because they allow me to converse with people--with writers, often my very favorite types of people--without, you know, having to converse with people.

Why do you love essays?

*And when I say "meh," it was more of a qualified "he's not really to my taste but I do think he's a talented writer who worked hard at his craft and indexed his own journals, which makes me love him, and his reading of his own Santaland Diaries is one of the best things ever, but still, I could largely take him or leave him," but that seemed a bit too long to type above.

Stacy Horn's Damnation Island and more essay chat.

I've not yet reviewed it here, but I have read (and loved) Stacy Horn's new book Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York. I also had the good fortune to interview Stacy about the book for The Millions. But the big news this morning is that her book got a great review in the New York Times! YAY, Stacy!

The book is not a light read but I loved it for all the usual reasons I love Stacy Horn's nonfiction writing: It's thoughtful, it's well-organized, I know it's been exhaustively fact-checked. But she always brings a little something extra to her stories, even when they're about crime and horrible mistakes that all sorts of people make, not just criminals but also those seeking to reform criminals: sympathy. You finish this book and you're sad, mostly because if you read enough books like this you realize there have never really been any "good old days," but also because you can't believe how much how many people have suffered down through the ages. But at the same time, she never really seems to give up. I like her tenacity. In her last pages she points out how the struggle to figure out how best to incarcerate people still goes on, and that we first have to learn about these problems to start to consider how to approach them.

In other Essay Project news I'm now in David Sedaris's We Talk Pretty One Day. Anyone else read the Sedaris? What are your thoughts? In reading (re-reading? I think I've read it before but can't remember--never a good sign) I find that I'm feeling the same way about Sedaris that I have always felt about him: I largely don't understand the appeal. I think he's a good writer, and he sometimes makes me laugh (mainly when telling stories about his very...ahem...interesting family), but I've never quite understood why he became a huge best-selling essayist. Can someone explain the appeal?

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.

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!


The Essay Project: The Polysyllabic Spree (cont.).

It has been a busy month. Between CRjrs, work, attending city council meetings for a neighborhood issue (wow: city government = time suck), health issues (not mine, but somebody's who is dear to me), and various and other sundry, what little system I had in this house is gone. Also, I keep stepping on Legos everywhere, which is not conducive to productivity.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that I have lost my library copy of Nick Hornby's collection of essays The Polysyllabic Spree somewhere in my house.

So I'm not quite sure what to ask this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed last week's discussion of what makes an essay.

Let's see, can I keep it general? How about this:

This is a book of essays about books. Did Hornby's essays make you want to read or re-read any specific books or authors? Why or why not?

For myself I must admit that his writing about Dickens (and how much he loves him) almost made me wonder if I should try another Dickens. But then I remembered that I still haven't recovered from slogging through Great Expectations in high school. It may take a few more decades.

Please let us know in the comments if Hornby's writing on writing spurred you to consider any new reading!

The Essay Project 2018: Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree.

It is Monday, May 7, and that means: It is time to do this Essay Project, people.

Can I get an AMEN from the choir?

That's better.

Now, our essay collection for May 2018 is Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree, which is a book consisting of essays he posted in The Believer magazine. Now you should know this about me: I don't really care for The Believer magazine. Any book review publication that doesn't really print negative reviews is emphatically not the kind of book review publication I want to be reading.

But I'm not going to hold that against Hornby. In these essays he looks at his book-buying and book-reading life, month by month, listing the books he buys and the books he actually reads, and what he thinks about those books.

But I'm not here to talk. I'm here to facilitate our discussion on this book to the best of my ability, and to pose questions and invite questions from you as well. For this firstish week of May, I have two questions; you can answer one or both.* The first one's no softball, because let's face it, we are not novices, we are Citizen Readers.

1. What makes something an essay?

And the second one is a softball, because we don't always go in just for the big intellectual stuff.

2. How did you like Hornby's essays in this collection?

Now have at in the comments!**

*And please suggest questions you'd like to ask for next week's discussion of this book.

**This is so exciting!


Oh my God, it's May.

Remember last month when I all cheerily posted a schedule for our essay readings for the rest of the year, and I wrote that we'd start in May, because that seemed a million days away?


So, do you all have your copies of Nick Hornby's essay collection The Polysyllabic Spree? Have you read it? Let's do this. Let's meet back here next week, Monday the 7, when I'll post some general opening questions about the book and the reading experience and we'll go crazy in the comments. Then if you want to ask questions, post them in the comments and we'll discuss those the following Monday.*

Or some such. Let's just figure this out as we go. I can't wait!

Now if you'll excuse me I've got to go pay some bills and do some other stuff because I am losing track of time and OH MY GOD IT'S MAY.

*If anyone would like to make any suggestions for how we could discuss these titles differently, at least during one month or session, just let me know. I'm not very good with all the fancy social media stuff. But maybe Google Chat or something?

The Essay Project: 2018 Schedule

Okay. So in addition to our Nobody Puts Nonfiction in a Corner posts, the consensus seemed to be that we could all benefit from reading and discussing a few more essays. I am very excited about this. I love essays.

Here's what I'm thinking: For the rest of the year, I'm throwing out reading suggestions by the month. When that month arrives, I'll try and do some posts in which I share some thoughts on the essayists and their work, and ask you to share yours. The idea is not only to have a good discussion (which we always seem to do no matter what) but to also start compiling a list of essayists and their works and what readers might particularly enjoy about them.

Are you game? I'm open to suggestions, but here were my thoughts for the rest of 2018.*

May: Nick Hornby's 2004 collection of essays about books and reading, The Polysyllabic Spree. I know, Hornby is not really an essayist. But that book was fun and I thought it would get us in the mood for more reading.

June and July: A twofer, with a triumvirate of essayists named David. David Rakoff's Fraud, David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day. I'm trying to pick either the essayists' best-known works, or works from earlier in their careers, by the way. Does this seem like a solid idea? I thought that tactic would give us the best sense of an essayist's true style.

August: Joan Didion's The White Album. I know, heavy. But come on. It's only 222 pages long and it's a MUST-READ if you want to know your essayists.

September: My favorite month, and it is open for you, dear readers, to pick the essayist and book. Comment below please, and feel free to comment on the comments, we can do that now!

October: Wendell Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community. Not his earliest, or his best known. I just want to read it again.

November: Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist: Essays, because I really should read it.

December: We'll pause on essayists to have a book group month, discussing Garret Keizer's book Privacy.

So that's what I've got. Not sure how the posting schedule will play out, but we'll play it by ear. I'm also open to guest posts if you'd like to write longer responses to anything you're reading in response to our Nonfiction and Essay posts; send them along to me at [email protected] and I'll post, along with links to anything else you might be writing or want to highlight.

I am BEYOND excited for this. To quote one of the CRjrs' favorite PBS shows ("Bob the Builder"): Can we build it? YES WE CAN!

*I'll put a printable schedule in the sidebar too.