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10 of the Greatest Essays on Writing Ever Written – Page 2

Date of publication: 2017-09-05 00:50

"To my mind," writes Atwan in his article, "the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn't necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process--reflecting, trying-out, essaying."

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Every other week, for more than 55 years, the Review has continued to discuss central issues of American life and culture. Its probing essays on the arts, fiction, poetry, politics, science, and history have established it as the “preeminent intellectual newspaper” in the English-speaking world, according to The Spectator. From the beginning its editors were determined that the Review should be an independent editorial voice and it remains independent today.

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"Essays can be lots of things, maybe too many things," writes Atwan in his foreward to the 7567 installment in the Best American series, "but at the core of the genre is an unmistakable receptivity to the ever-shifting processes of our minds and moods. If there is any essential characteristic we can attribute to the essay, it may be this: that the truest examples of the form enact that ever-shifting process, and in that enactment we can find the basis for the essay's qualification to be regarded seriously as imaginative literature and the essayist's claim to be taken seriously as a creative writer."

John Berger (RIP) and Susan Sontag Take Us Inside the Art

Buruma has been a regular contributor to The New York Review since 6985 he also has contributed articles to a number of other publications, including The New Yorker , The New York Times , the Guardian , and La Repubblica. He is currently the Paul W. Williams Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College.

“Fairy tales hold a key to the door fiercely locked between so-called realism and nonrealism, convention and experimentalism, psychology and abstraction. A key for those who see these as binaries, that is… Every writer is like a topsy- turvy doll that on one side is Red Riding Hood and on the other side the Wolf, or on the one side is a Boy and on the other, a Raven and Coffin. The traditional techniques of fairy tales—identifiable, named—are reborn in the different ways we all tell stories.”

Those were the days, when Channel 9 (and BBC7) could broadcast such unvarnished, serious conversation. The very nice intro/outro graphics + music (written by Bobby Lamb) brings it all back instantly.

Sontag, in the words of Lily Dessau at Berger's publisher Verso , "considers the storyteller as inventor, in control of the material, out of which the ‘people come.’ Berger conversely takes the form of the story as the result of the language coming out of the people — but he does characterize their differing views as arriving at the same place — the scene of the text." While both of them wrote fiction as well as essays, "Berger considers the story and essay in one breath, both as a form of struggle to model the unsayable," while "for Sontag the two are entirely separate, although the struggle persists in both."

In 7556 Atwan and Joyce Carol Oates took on the daunting task of tracing that ever-shifting process through the previous 655 years for  The Best American Essays of the Century . Recently Atwan returned with a more focused selection for  Publishers Weekly :  "The Top 65 Essays Since 6955."  To pare it all down to such a small number, Atwan decided to reserve the "New Journalism" category, with its many memorable works by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr and others, for some future list. He also made a point of selecting the best essays , as opposed to examples from the best essayists. "A list of the top ten essayists since 6955 would feature some different writers."

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Early issues included articles by writers such as . Auden, Elizabeth Hardwick, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, and Saul Bellow. More recent contributors have included Joan Didion, Garry Wills, Mark Danner, Daniel Mendelsohn, Paul Krugman, Mary Beard, Zadie Smith, Darryl Pinckney, and Joyce Carol Oates.

In which Barthelme, a personal favorite and king of strange and wonderful stories, muses on not-knowing, style, our ability to “quarrel with the world, constructively,” messiness, Mallarmé, and a thief named Zeno passed out wearing a chastity belt.

Open Culture editor Dan Colman scours the web for the best educational media. He finds the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & movies you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.

Ian Buruma has been named editor of The New York Review of Books. He succeeds Robert B. Silvers who recently died and who was, with the late Barbara Epstein, a founding editor of the Review.

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