It's the fault and doing of Anne Fadiman, whose gently wry humor, enchantingly mystified experience of the world, and insanely huge vocabulary have given me a permanent desire to read more of her work. She's Husband-Interruption-Worthy. I shall own - in brand new copies I buy with real money at a retail store - everything she ever writes.
This permanent devotion to Anne Fadiman brought on by her triumphant resurrection of the "familiar essay" led me to find out what else she might have written. I found The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (currently in my pile, waiting to be read), and I found out that she had edited one of the annual volumes of The Best American Essays. Interesting! Okay, put that on hold ...
But that's from 2003. Who is writing essays now? Let's see ... The Best American Essays 2008 is edited by ... wow! Adam Gopnik! My Adam Gopnik? Scientist in the Crib Adam Gopnik? Oh. No, wait. That author was Allison Gopnik. Well, who's Adam Gopnik? Ooooohhh... Adam and Allison are a brother and sister (who have other equally eloquent and brilliant siblings and spouses). Okay, that makes sense. It runs in the family.
So, what about this Adam fellow, then? He's written this editor's Forward to this American Essays volume. Who is he?
Oooh. (blush!) I'm a philistine. A troglodyte. Resident, apparently, of the geography under a random rock. Adam Gopnik, I now find out, is a staff writer at The New Yorker. He is also the author of Paris to the Moon, Through the Children's Gate, and The King in the Window, and man, oh man, can the man write an essay! This is an excerpt from the Forward to The Best American Essays 2008, a volume Gopnik hopes contains "the breath of things as they are." He is talking about what an essay is ... and whether the form is currently valid, interesting, or worth the writing.
The ideal essay has facts and feelings, emotions and thoughts, an argument about and an anecdote from, parallel and then crisscrossing, all over it. It is a classical form for short-winded romantics, a way of turning a newborn feeling back into a series of pregnant sentences.Have you ever tried on an article of clothing or held a tool in your hand that you instantly knew belonged to you - belonged to you in some essential way because it fit you as naturally as your own hands and hair? Some other being might have made this thing you now recognize as your own, but it is your own nonetheless. It suits you. You use it as you use your own hearing or opposable thumbs.
I have. I'm doing it now.