5 Essays to Read This Weekend
No one thinks of essays as literature – that term is reserved for short stories, poetry, plays, and fiction and non-fiction books. And yet, there are a large number of literary magazines that are devoted to the publication of essays. And there are collections of many writers’ best essays published in book form. Some essayists also publish their collections in books. But these pieces of writing are seldom taken up in literature classes. They should be. They can be just as powerful, just as funny, just as poignant, and just as compelling as larger pieces of writing. Here are 5 that you should pick up and read this weekend. They can be found online, so you won’t even have to leave your house.
“Notes of a Native Son,” by James Baldwin
This is a classic, autobiographical essay first published in 1955. Baldwin recounts a part of his life in Detroit against a backdrop of race riots and the death of his father, dealing with racism in a realistic, honest way. In our supposed “post racial” society, it is important to read Baldwin’s depiction of the racism of his time and to reflect on the possibility that perhaps we are not so “post racial” after all.
“The Invisible Made Visible,” by David Rakoff
You don’t even have to read this one. You can catch Rakoff actually reading it live, a few months before he died of cancer at age 47. In this essay, Rakoff takes a look at his life, at life in general, and of some of the experiences of a gay man growing up in a time when “gayness” still had to be hidden. He was a prolific essayist, and this one was his last. But his style did not change – parts of it are so hilarious, you will actually laugh out loud; parts of it may have you in tears. But, as a whole, it is such a great comment on how we all live.
“Sliver of Sky,” by Barry Lopez
This essay was published in Harper’s Magazine in 2013. Earlier essays by Lopez had been published by this and other magazines. He is, primarily, a nature writer. But this one was shockingly different. Lopez decided it was time to “open up” about the regular sexual abuse he endured at the hands of a hideous man who was his mother’s boyfriend for about 4 years. He recounts the methods by which this man gained control of his mind as well as his body so that he didn’t even consider telling anyone. The story is horrifying, but it is an impactful portrait of what a victim of sexual abuse really endures.
“The Braindead Megaphone,” by George Saunders
You are at a party. One person at the party has a megaphone. Everyone is talking normally, but the man with the megaphone, even though he has nothing truly important to say, is the only one being heard – because, of course, he has the megaphone. Through some hilarious scenarios that follow, Saunders likens television media and politicians to the man with the megaphone – they have nothing to say really, but they do have the microphone, and we all sit and listen as if they did have something to say. This essay is certainly funny, but it vilifies both the people with the megaphones and the people who listen to them.
“It’s Catching,” by David Sedaris
This is probably one of the funniest writers of our times. Most of Sedaris’s essays are autobiographical, but they so hilariously describe and comment on our culture and the human condition in general, that everyone should read at least one of this man’s essays (although they are a bit like Pringles – you can have just one). This particular piece relates to Americans’ obsession with medications, germs, and the need to describe in full detail every illness or surgery they have ever undergone.
Take a break, or several, this weekend and read some pieces that will never show up in a literature class – they are wonderful short pieces that say as much as any book.