Essay Reading Challenge Check-in


  Essays Completed:  7

Sources:  The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem,

The New Yorker (January 7, 2013 edition)

  So this Essay Reading Challenge might be one I can actually finish!  Only 10 days into the year and I have read seven essays.

I forgot that I had The Ecstasy of Influence on my Nook so when I did a New Year review of what was on my device and saw this collection I thought it would be a great one to start the essay challenge.  I have not read any of Jonathan Lethem’s fiction, so I don’t know why I bought this in the first place (well, yes I do — I am a bookaholic) but the few essays I have read are interesting.  One essay talks about his experiences as a clerk in several used bookstores, another about two of his classmates at Bennington College — Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt.  My favorite was an essay entitled “Going Under in Wendover”, about his experiences hitchhiking in the western U.S. and finding it more difficult than he expected.

I subscribe to The New Yorker on my Nook, and last week’s issue had a lovely essay by Daniel Mendelsohn entitled “The American Boy“.  As a young boy in the 1970s, Mendelsohn grappled with his sexuality.  His father, perhaps understanding Daniel’s angst, gave him Mary Renault’s novel Fire from Heaven.  Daniel was affected so much by the book after reading it that he went to great lengths to seek Ms Renault’s address (in South Africa) and write her a letter about what the book meant to him.  And she wrote back.  Thus began an intermittent but fairly lengthy correspondence between the boy and the author.  Long after Renault’s death in 1983, Mendelsohn received a letter from one of her friends in South Africa and he made a visit to her home and met people who were close to her and who “knew” Daniel from Mary’s conversations about their letters.

I loved this essay because of the way it described the impact a writer’s words can have on someone.  Back in the 1970s it would not have been easy to make contact with an author (*gasp* No Twitter or Facebook!) so to read about the effort he made to get the information to write to her says something about what her book meant.

I noticed that Daniel Mendelsohn has recently published his own collection of essays, Waiting for the Barbarians, which I just checked out from the library.  I hope to report on one or more of them with my next update!

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3 Responses to Essay Reading Challenge Check-in

  1. Ooh, the Mendelsohn essay sounds a wonderful blend of literary experience and personal relationship. I look forward to hearing more about how you get on with his collection. I need to write up my essay reading experiences this weekend too. I’ve been tackling Zadie Smith’s collection, Changing My Mind, because I only ever read White Teeth and always wondered about her non-fiction. :

  2. zibilee says:

    I would love to read more essays, but haven’t found any that particularly call to me. I think the ones you’ve described here sound rather good, and might consider reading the Letham book sometime soon. I have never challenged myself to read essays, but it seems like a really neat thing to do. So glad that it’s working out for you!!

  3. Sounds like you’re finding some great essays to read for the challenge! I’m especially interested in the Lethem collection.

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