Last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Phillip Lopate, the master essayist and editor of The Canon, read from his forthcoming book Portrait Inside My Head.
Admittedly, I was curious to see if he might slip in a comment about the recent online kerfuffle over personal writing. Considering he was quoted in the New York Times essay that kicked it off as saying, “The author Phillip Lopate complains that the problem with confessional writing is that people don’t confess enough.”
He didn’t. He just read, marvelously, about his life. And I left the bar, feeling as I always do after encountering a fully realized personal essay: amused, uplifted, braver, less alone, more at ease with being human, and reminded of the many other essays that have enriched my life.
Or in the case of these ten personal essays, literally, altered my life:
Sarah Vowell: Take the Cannoli
Ariel Levy: The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook
David Sedaris: SantaLand Diaries
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Self-Reliance
A.L. Kennedy: A Blow to the Head
Paul Feig: Scared Straight
Dubravka Ugresic: USA Nails
Bridget Potter: Lucky Girl
Mary McCarthy: All of them. Everything she ever wrote—even what I haven’t read, yet. I won’t choose.
There are hundreds, probably, thousands more, but these are the ones that live inside my head, sustaining, encouraging, cajoling, comforting me as I essay this life.
Wait. Of course, I have to add Michel de Montaigne, the grand-père of personal essays, and his Of the Force of Imagination.
And E.B. White’s Here is New York.
And, okay, okay, c’mon one more: Christy Vannoy’s A Personal Essay by a Personal Essay.
And? Off the top of your head, who would you add?