This is where I get all nonfiction-y on you

All these favorite short stories made me wonder yesterday whether people could list 10 favorite essays as quickly or as excitedly. I wondered if I could. I read a lot of essays, and after a while, it gets hard to keep them all separate. I’m horrible at remembering titles, too, which doesn’t help. I tend to remember subject matter first.

But I could list about eight short stories without looking at my bookshelf or a file I have called, imaginatively, “favorite writing,” in which I keep things like that. For example: I sometimes rip stories or articles out of the New Yorker or elsewhere or keep handouts from classes I’ve taken…I had a short story course the first semester of my MFA program in which the professor gave us copies of at least 15 stories for the last class meeting, and so I’ve kept some of those that I liked in my folder. I have some essays in there too…

But favorite essays are maybe are a different kind of favorite? I wonder. The intimacy and contained world of a short story seems to create a real fondness in the readers who relate to that world or its characters. The same can happen in essays, but do readers form the same kinds of attachments? Can you list 10 favorites?

In any case, I give you my ten favorite essays/short nonfiction. Guess what? It was harder (and it took me a lot longer) to come up with this list than it was for me to come up with my list of short stories. I’m not sure why that is, and I admit to being mildly disappointed in myself. After all, I like to see myself as a nonfiction writer, and supporter of nonfiction writing. Hmm. Anyway, the ten:

“Why We Travel,” Pico Iyer (originally in Salon Travel)
“Goodbye to All That,” Joan Didion (from Slouching Toward Bethlehem)
“The Inheritance of Tools,” Scott Russell Sanders
“Once More to the Lake,” E.B. White
“Consider the Lobster,” David Foster Wallace  (from the book of the same name).
“Show Dog,” Susan Orlean (appeared in the New Yorker, and is in Life Stories or this collection)
“Storm Country,” Paul Crenshaw (find it here)
“No Name Woman,” Maxine Hong Kingston
“On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion (from Slouching Toward Bethlehem)
“Why Bother?” Jonathan Franzen (from How to Be Alone)

Some runners-up: “Dog Trouble,” Cathleen Schine (find it here), and “Learning to Breathe,” by Alison Wright (in Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel).


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