The Art of the Essay, 1999

Phillip Lopate, Author, Phillip Lopate, Introduction by, Phillip Lopate, Selected by Anchor Books $23 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-48415-2
Using the same skill he employed in the last two editions of this annual collection, Lopate (editor of The Art of the Personal Essay) has compiled diverse essays from some of the best contemporary writers and juxtaposed them intriguingly, making for a satisfying and provocative anthology. Individually, the pieces range in subject and form from Alexander Theroux's ruminations on the color black as a ""kind of abstract unindividualized deficiency"" to Jonathan Rosen's angst over the loss of the journal he had kept on his computer chronicling his grandmother's dying to Margaret Talbot's indictment of what she sees as environmentalist Bill McKibben's smug piousness and philosophical fallacies. The essays fall into categories ranging from religion to sports, from politics to aging, coupled in such a way as to reveal the variety of the essay form itself. For example, Andre Dubus's keen essay, ""Digging,"" recounts the time he spent as a teenager on a construction site, learning the value of hard work, while the following essay, Thomas Beller's ""Portrait of the Bagel as a Young Man,"" is a whimsical view of a young slacker who toils only to pay the rent and cull anecdotes for his future journalistic career. Among the other notable pairings are Susan Sontag's essay on the ecstasy of opera and Martha Nussbaum's on the necessity of artistic tragedy; Siri Hustvedt's piece on the importance of eros is followed by Wayne Koestenbaum's brilliantly faceted entry on sexual commodification. Lopate's wonderful intuition combined with the work of these notable writers make this a superb collection. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/13/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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