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Apt then that her next book parades this scope so proudly.The 29 essays that make up Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness (due for publication in November) are global in their reach, combining meditations on history, politics, science, art, literature, climate change and natural disasters, and take us from the snowy tundra of the Arctic to the carnival-filled streets of New Orleans.The most recent, Forty-One False Starts, contains one of the best pieces of writing on the Bloomsbury Group I’ve ever read, “A House of One’s Own;” while other particular noteworthy inclusions are her 1986 profile of Artforum magazine’s editor Ingrid Sischy, “A Girl of the Zeitgeist,” as well as the stylistically innovative profile of the artist David Salle from which the collection takes its title.
They’re referring predominantly, of course, to Gould’s prolific blogging (including the pieces she wrote for Gawker during the time she worked for the New York-based gossip blog site).
But Gould also authored her own book of essays-cum-memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever, a collection of elegantly written, melancholy-tinged accounts of her life in New York, which preceded Dunham’s adoption of the same structure for her book.
“Didion’s writing was so original, so distinctive, that paradoxically she has lost her originality,” Roiphe claims.
“She has become mundane, traces of her sharp personal lyricism scattered through newspapers and magazines.” All the same, it’s still worth reading anything and everything Didion writes, particularly her first, and probably most famous collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem; works inspired, for the most part, by Didion’s life in California that together paint a vivid portrait of American life in the ’60s, all crystalized through Didion’s unflinching eyes.
It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse.
Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow.Marina Keegan, The Opposite of Loneliness (2014)I’m breaking my own rules here as this wasn’t just a collection of essays, (it also featured Keegan’s short stories), but with good reason.Published posthumously after Keegan was tragically killed in a car accident just five days after she graduated from Yale in 2012, The Opposite of Loneliness showcases the small but perfectly formed body of work Keegan left behind.Unlike her fellow essayists, Malcolm is both an absence and a presence in her work.Yet the pieces of hers that delight the most often feature a moment of Malcolmian self-reflection—the instance when she realizes that although she’s been claiming that she brought her own work to Salle while interviewing him in order to simply illustrate the difference between that of an amateur and a professional, she had secretly been hoping for his praise; or, a year after the fact, when she realizes that something Sischy once said to her was in fact a “covert commentary” on their relationship.With pieces on the giants who precede her (that on Didion quoted above, and Sontag), those in which she wades around in the territory of gender politics in which she made her name (her first book The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism  explored the culpability of women in the rise of suspected campus date rape incidents, inspiring, unsurprisingly, some hostile critical responses), musings on literature (from the figure of Shakespeare’s wife, Ann Hathaway, to the modern incest scene in fiction), and the problems of the contemporary child-centric middle-class world, to name but a smattering of Roiphe’s topics, it’s a collection that both celebrates and questions our messy, modern lives and the way we live them.Rebecca Solnit, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness (2014)Solnit is one of the most prolific writers on my list—the author of 15 books and countless essays—and one of the most far-reaching in terms of the subjects with which she concerns herself, too.In a piece published in the New York Times last year under the title “The Essayification of Everything,” Christy Wampole takes her readers through a brief history of the form—from Michel de Montaigne’s Essais from 1580; Francis Bacon’s appropriation of the term from French to English for his 16th century work; Robert Musil’s use of the term “essayism” (Essayismus in the original German) for the “leakage” of the essay, “when it cannot be contained by its generic borders;” through Adorno’s quote about the “essay’s groping intention.”“The essayist,” Wampole then goes on to explain, “is interested in thinking about himself thinking about things.” Note her use of the male pronoun at a point in her essay that deals entirely with the genre’s male progenitors.But only a few paragraphs later, where she’s describing the work of the figure she calls the “true essayist,” there’s a switch in gender and the “he” becomes a “she”:“Our often unreflective quickness means that little time is spent interrogating things we’ve touched upon. The true essayist prefers a more cumulative approach; nothing is ever really left behind, only put aside temporarily until her digressive mind summons it up again, turning it this way and that in a different light, seeing what sense it makes.“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman,” writes Lena Dunham in the introduction to her essays-cum-memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.” But does simply announcing one has a story automatically legitimize its telling?Surely there needs to be some kind of discerning critical judgment involved?