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A Project for 2012: Essay a Day

Back in October, our topic for the Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees was nonfiction anthologies. Ash (English Major’s Narrative), the topic author, is an avid essay reader and wanted us to write about our favorite collections of nonfiction writing. At the time, I admitted that I have a lot of nonfiction essay collections, but I’m terrible about reading them:

I have always wanted to be the sort of person that gets into essay collections. I can’t tell you the number I’ve bought over the years, vowing to start reading them right away, that then take a neglected place near the bottom of my unread books shelf. I’m addicted to buying nonfiction anthologies, but can’t seem to actually read them.

At the time, I also mused about trying to finally read my collections as part of a plan to read an essay every day for 365 days. When Ash said she might be interested in doing something similar, I knew I’d found the awesome partner I’d need to stay accountable. A few e-mails later, our informal Essay A Day project was born.

We’re going to keep this as simple as possible. My plan is to post about each essay I read over on my Tumblr, A Little Bit of Dorkiness, and review the full collections here on the blog. I’m also planning to define “essay” broadly and include long-form magazine writing, so I’m sure I’ll be reading a lot online. I may do a monthly wrap-up, depending how I’m feeling at the time. We’re both going to start on January 1, 2012 and run through December 31, 2012.

Anyone is more than welcome to join up — for any length of time and at any level of commitment — if you’re interested in reading more essays. We’re not doing formal sign-ups or anything, but if you want to participate just let us know so we can keep in touch.

I haven’t decided what collection to start off the year with. I’m leaning towards either one of my Best American Essays collections (I have 2011 and 2007 sitting on my shelf now) or The New Kings of Nonfiction. We’ll just have to see how I’m feeling on January 1!

Do you like to read essays? Do you have any favorite sources or collections I should look into for this project?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) December 20, 2011, 8:46 am

    That sounds like a great way to tackle your essay collections!

  • Ash December 20, 2011, 11:22 am

    I’m so excited to work on this project with you! I need to figure out which collection I’m going to take with me to India since I’ll be there during the start of the year!

    • Kim December 21, 2011, 9:04 am

      Oh that’s right, you’re starting the year abroad. That’s so exciting! I’ll just be at home in the Twin Cities on Jan. 1, so will have to remember to bring the collection with me.

  • Kailana December 20, 2011, 11:58 am

    Sounds like a fun project!

  • Amy December 20, 2011, 9:15 pm

    Love the idea and am looking forward to what you read!

  • Trisha December 20, 2011, 10:03 pm

    I have a handful of essay collections, but I know I’m much too sporadic to devote myself to one a day! Good for you and good luck!

    • Kim December 21, 2011, 9:05 am

      Maybe you could try reading on per week?

  • Betty December 21, 2011, 7:56 am

    Please define “essay.”. What makes an essay?

    • Kim December 21, 2011, 9:07 am

      That’s a good question… I almost just want to go with the old, “I know it when I see it!” definition, but obviously that’s not helpful.

      I think Wikipedia’s definition is actually pretty good: “An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author’s personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition of an essay is vague, overlapping with those of an article and a short story.”

      When I think of an essay, I think of a shorter piece of writing (between, say, a blog post and a novella) that combines an author’s personal experiences/thoughts with research for a cohesive argument about a topic. I think there are a lot of ways to define an essay, and I suspect that even Ash and I are going to have different ideas about what “counts” for the project.

  • Trish December 21, 2011, 12:52 pm

    I love the IDEA of this. I have quite a few collections of essays sitting on my bookshelves but…just like short stories they always seem to fall to the wayside.

    Just read your other post about truth in nonfiction and am pressed for time so am mentioning here. Very interesting thoughts. I’m also a trusting reader and am always a bit disappointed when I find that things have been embellished. I always wonder about conversations as well–interesting about Melznik’s approach.

    • Kim December 22, 2011, 3:09 pm

      Yes, so true. That’s part of the reason for doing the project — finding a way to make essays/short nonfiction part of my regular reading rotation. Maybe you can try to do one a week as a starter?

  • Jillian December 22, 2011, 3:32 pm

    Ash inspired me to read Montaigne’s enormous collection of essays last year. (I still have half left for next year.) I absolutely adore them. In 2012 I’ll be reading Emerson’s collection as well. I’d also love to read more of Virginia Woolf’s at some point.

    Cheers and Happy Holidays, Kim!

    • Kim December 29, 2011, 9:12 pm

      Wow, ambitious! I think most of my essay reading will be more contemporary writers, but we’ll see what I come across as the year goes on.

  • Vasilly January 2, 2012, 9:05 pm

    Kim, what a great idea! Count me in! I have a few essay collections around here that I go through but haven’t finished. I think I’ll participate the whole year. It’s a great way for me to read what I have and have something to write about. My first collection will probably be Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss. Some of my favorite essay collections are The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, and The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams.

    How often will we keep in touch?

  • Cheryl Wright-Watkins March 5, 2012, 4:23 pm

    I just found this through a shared link on Twitter. What a great idea! I’ve been virtually immersed in Brian Doyle’s essay collection for the couple of months. I interviewed him for my MFA critical thesis. He’s brilliant. His latest book is a short story collection called “Bin Laden’s Bald Spot and Other Stories,” which is advertised as fiction but based in fact. He wrote it, BTW, before Bin Laden’s demise.

    • Kim March 5, 2012, 4:28 pm

      Brian Doyle wrote one of my favorite essays of all time, “Joyas Voladoras,” but I haven’t actually read a full collection of his work, which is a shame. Thank you for the reminder — do you have a collection that you recommend?

      • Cheryl Wright-Watkins March 5, 2012, 5:01 pm

        I would probably recommend Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies or The Wet Engine. “Joyas” is in The Wet Engine, btw. The book is a result of the research and worry he did about hearts after one of his twin sons had to have 2 lifesaving heart surgeries before his 2d birthday.
        Last winter, I first read Doyle when a friend posted “Joyas” on Facebook. I was blown away. I was checking FB while taking a break from reading TBAE 2009. After I read “Joyas,” I picked up the book and turned to the next essay, which was Doyle’s “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever,” and I honestly felt changed.
        A few days later, I found a hummingbird on my front porch. It was lying on its back, and I assumed it was dead until it twitched its beak my way. I ran inside and mixed up some simple syrup, thinking all the while about “Joyas.” It sounds unbelievable, but the bird sipped from a spoon, and a few drops revived him. I nudged to help him turn over, and then I watched in awe as he flew out of sight. Needless to say, I felt like I’d participated in a miracle. I emailed the story to my MFA advisor, Patrick Madden, who told me that he and Brian are friends. Pat sent the story to Brian, and a friendship was formed. I conducted an E-mail interview with Doyle for my MFA critical thesis. He is as wonderful personally as he is in his essays.

        • Kim March 5, 2012, 6:57 pm

          That’s such a great story, thank you for sharing! I think when I first ready “Joyas” in college, as part of one of the Best American… collections, it changed the way I thought about what an essay could be. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece.

          • Cheryl Wright-Watkins March 5, 2012, 9:30 pm

            Kim, If you have the chance to read The Wet Engine, a book that is totally devoted to hearts, you will appreciate the essay even more. The next time you read Brian, keep in mind that three of his major influences are Van Morrison, Bruce Springstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great site, a great project, and a wonderful idea. Thank you!