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The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present
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The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  1,322 ratings  ·  83 reviews
For more than four hundred years, the personalessay has been one of the richest and most vibrantof all literary forms. Distinguished from thedetached formal essay by its friendly, conversationaltone, its loose structure, and its drive towardcandor and self-disclosure, the personal essayseizes on the minutiae of daily life-vanities,fashions, foibles, oddballs, seasonal ritu...more
Paperback, 832 pages
Published January 15th 1997 by Anchor (first published 1994)
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Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster WallaceNaked by David SedarisSex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck KlostermanMe Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisThe Art of the Personal Essay by Phillip Lopate
Best Book of Essays
5th out of 80 books — 71 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingHow to Write Sentences and Paragraphs in Your Novel by Dorothy May MercerHow to Format Your Book by Dorothy May MercerHow to Write Great Dialog by Dorothy May MercerBird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing Books for Writers
52nd out of 72 books — 47 voters


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Community Reviews

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Keertana
I need to make a separate shelf for this book titled, "kill-me-now," because really, the best way to offer someone a slow and painful death is to make them read this. I was forced to read this for class and write up summaries and analysis' for practically all the essays, in addition to taking a test and writing an essay on these essays for my classes, so I did not have fun reading this. It's boring, it's long, and 99.9% of the essays in this are boring. I guess if you like reading personal ess...more
Michael
So many great essays in this anthology that it would be worthy for that reason alone, but Lopate's organizational principles make this especially useful for the essayist in search of models, or for the reader who is chasing the many forms of a specific type of essay, or for anyone who enjoys reading personal nonfiction. I never fail to feel a buzz of anticipatory joy when I pick this volume up, and writing out this Goodreads note makes me realize that I really should dip back into this soon.
Snickers
This collection of essays warrants several readings. Phillip Lopate, a distinguished essayist and brother of Leonard Lopate, NPR commentator on New York City's WNYC, presents a sizable and articulate Introduction of what makes an essay 'personal'. He examines the process of crafting the personal essay by dedicating digestible segments under headings such as "The Conversational Element", "Honesty, Confession, and Privacy", and "Questions of Form and Style." This book is as much of a resource as i...more
Rachel Rueckert
As I have been working on some of my own personal essays from my travels in India, this was like my Bible. I'm just going to attach some of my responses on the form and content of selected essays. It can be daunting to try and sift through the entire anthology, so I hope this can help someone:

Consolation to His Wife by Plutarch

Content:

It is kind of refreshing to find a guy who “atypically for his age, saw marriage as the closet of human bonds” (16). It is clear as we read this that he admires h...more
Jessica
My favorite essay in this thick, heavy, door-stopping book is a humble writing of G.K. Chesterton entitled "A Piece of Chalk". I absolutely adore drawing with chalk and so of course I felt connected to him right off the bat. It was actually the first time I'd ever read Chesterton before, and I instantly fell in love. There is something in his writing that resonates with something inside me... in other words, it feels good. This anthology also includes other masters, both classic and modern such...more
Emily
May 25, 2010 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2010
I read four essays from this book every week, and picked one to write about. The final list, with links to individual essay reviews:


Seneca
Shonagon
Montaigne
Steele
Edgeworth
Lamb
Stevenson
Chesterton
Woolf
Tanizaki
Borges
Cioran
Suleri
Thoreau
McCarthy
Baldwin
Didion
Lopate
Nancy
Lopate's introduction alone is worth the price of admission to this house of wonders. Anyone at all interested in writing essays must read it. As for the essays themselves, some are more riveting/amusing/touching than others. My favorites: Seneca on Asthma; Virginia Woolf on "Street Haunting" and "Death of a Moth"; George Orwell's hair-raising account of prep school English-style, "Such, Such Were the Days; Richard Selzer's "The Knife" (don't read this if you have surgery scheduled); Didion's "G...more
Joy H.
Mar 30, 2014 Joy H. marked it as read-partially
Shelves: essays, own
Added 8/21/13.

Nina of my GR group had recommended this book: The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. So I borrowed it from our local library. It's quite a tome! Some of the essays are excellent and others don't appeal to me, but it has a wonderfully varied list of selections written during the "last four centuries". The reader is bound to find at least some of the essays quite interesting.

The multiple tables of contents are arranged in different ways, o...more
Karen
Jul 08, 2009 Karen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers
Recommended to Karen by: A Bennington Prof
Shelves: read_chunks_of
I always come back to this anthology for Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Lantern Bearers," probably one of my favorite pieces of all time, by one of my favorite authors. The quote below isn't inspirational or aphoristic, but when I think of my favorite quotes, this paragraph rings out. Read aloud, its words and rhythm (say "top-coat buttoned") are beautiful on their own, but as far as the sentiment underpinning it, I could almost take it as a manifesto:

"But the talk, at any rate, was but a condime...more
Gideon Burton
As anthologies go, Phillip Lopate's collection of personal essays is more than apt. He introduces this important genre of contemporary creative nonfiction, and gives to us the ancestry of the form by reaching back into history to find the beginnings and antecedents to modern essay writing. While I have not read every essay in this volume, I don't think is intended to be read cover to cover. It is just right: a large enough set to have true variety in the selection, but not daunting. It is slight...more
Lillian
This is an incredible anthology of personal essays by the masters, from the Classical Era to the Present. It features Seneca, Michel De Montaigne, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, G.K. Chesterton, V. Woolf, Thoreau, H.L. Mencken, E.B. White, Adrienne Rich, Wendell Berry, Anne Dillard and many, many more.
It is a must for any personal library collection. I intend to make it part of mine own.
Erin O'Neill
This is one of my all-time favorite anthologies of essays...a must-read, many times over
Debra
Although I’ve been a fan of the personal essay for many years, I put off reading this collection for a long time because of its 771-page length. Still, the time to dive in finally arrived in late April and two months later (reading shorter novels in between) all I can say is wow! I’m so glad I took the time to read every page.

Editor Phillip Lopate has put together an amazing collection for fans of the personal essay. His forward is lengthy, but insightful, and he provides a good definition of th...more
Aneesa
I picked up this book again to read an essay by Walter Benjamin entitled "Unpacking My Library," which had been recommended to me. Unfortunately, his meditation on the collecting, purchasing, and owning of books is pretty pretentious and inadvertently classist. His only valuable insight in this essay, in my opinion, is about the nature of childhood: "I am not exaggerating when I say that to a true collector the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth. This is the childlike element which in a c...more
Titus Hjelm
It's a BIG book that took me quite while to finish, but worth all the effort. The contemporary American essays were my favourites, mostly because I'm very much into the social criticism/observation genre represented by people like McCarthy, Baldwin, Vidal, Lopate and Rodriguez. Also, some of the essays, especially Montaigne's pieces, suffered in translation. I'm not a native speaker, but still I could tell that the flow of the text wasn't as good as it could have been. Can't wait to compare this...more
Mel
The Art of the Personal Essay is an amazing collection of nonfiction essays that spans hundreds of years. It offers the cityscape that is the development of Creative Nonfiction. Whilst I was engrossed in each essay, I confess the power of the text becomes lost if one tries to read it as a whole (or assignment). I find myself returning to the essays contained there often; opening the book and simply being drawn into a world in miniature, perhaps Virginia Woolf, or Richard Rodriguez, or some ancie...more
César
The Art of the Personal Essay is the definite collection of non-fiction writing. Phillip Lopate has put together an engaging collection. Any writer, or reader, interested in getting a good taste of, shall we say, "traditional" non-fiction, should give this anthology a try. I highly recommend Lopate's introduction on the elements of the personal essay, as well as solid work by Woolf, Didion, Johnson, Borges, Rodriguez, Orwell, White, Thoreau, Dillard, Rich... and even the "fountainheads" such as...more
Leah
Jun 07, 2007 Leah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-fiction readers and writers
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
This well-edited collection is a fantastic introduction to the personal essay, a form of which I am incredibly fond. The authors and their work vary widely in style and content and anyone looking to learn to write a solid and moving personal essay (college applicants perhaps?) would do well to read it. Though I wouldn't suggest reading it cover to cover (though I did), I would suggest picking it up and reading not only the familar writers (Woolf, Stevenson), but some of the less familar ones as...more
Jeremy
Feb 09, 2014 Jeremy marked it as to-read
Bret Lott mentioned this in his creative nonfiction workshop at UMHB (Feb. 6, 2014).
Julia Atwood
Good writing resource
Adrianna
Finished reading "Art of the Personal Essay" complied by Phillip Lopate for school and I enjoyed learning about the development of the personal essay from Ancient Rome to present day. While at times, the language can get tough and the metaphors a bit cmplicated to understand, any true bibliophile and writer should pick up this book at least once. The essays contained within are gems of literature and its writers are brilliant minds that still have much to teach us, even from beyond the grave.
Meghan McAfee
This book is all encompassing, an anthology worth its weight--which is about two pounds.

From the father of the personal essay, Michel de Montaigne to one of the best representatives of contemporary, "New Journalism", Joan Didion The Art of the Personal Essay truly has it all. Whether you're a student of nonfiction or merely an admirer, this book needs to be in your collection.
Amy
I've been slowly making my way through this book. So far it's been a great read. My favorite so far is from the journal of a tenth century Japanese court woman entitled "Hateful Things" where she lists all things hateful to her - witty and insightful! But don't get bogged down with Montaigne....you can skip him :)I'll list other good ones as I keep reading.
Joan
Excellent anthology of personal essays spanning many generations and continents. Lopate begins each set of essays with a brief biography of the essayist and a description of their writing style and contribution to essay-writing. I just finished one essay by James Baldwin, and I'm looking forward to reading many more over this winter break.
Jessica Jones
A wonderful collection, from Seneca to Adrienne Rich. Essays are in chronological order, but the table of contents also provides listings by topic and theme, so that if you are teaching, or in the mood for a certain kind of reading, you can look up 'romance' or 'nature' or 'walking' or 'food' and read a corresponding piece. Delectable!
Dawnelle Wilkie
A comprehensive collection of personal essays. Lopate's introduction alone is worth the purchase price. Also the Table of Contents is done several ways (by page number, by category, by theme)--very helpful if you find yourself teaching a creative writing class and needing to find reading assignments that address a particular form or theme.
Scott
The personal essay as a literary form doesn't get much better than this. Lopate has a first-rate ear for "voice," and fills this fine anthology with all the greats, Seneca, Chesterton, Woolf, Orwell and on and on. Lopate himself is not a bad essayist, as his insightful and curmedgeonly "Against Joie de Vivre" demonstrates.
Alice-Jane//Jessica
I read this because it was assigned as a summer assignment for my English class. I'm glad that I did because this book contains some of the best essays and it's organized in a clear format. It's easy to search for models for essays. My favorite essays in this book are the ones by G.K Chesterton however.

Joseph Nicolello
Amazing find at the used bookstore, brand new, for three bucks. I'd never dabbled in this collection and the lineup is solid and really well-rounded. A good one to have handy for life. Also introduced me to Lopate, whom I'd never heard of. Looking to forward to picking up some of his books.
Caitlyn
A bunch of great essays compiled into one big book...I'm reading this for my English class so I'm putting it on here to inspire me to read the essays we aren't assigned. It covers several different authors, from Seneca and Plutarch to Joan Didion and Virginia Woolf. Love it.
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Phillip Lopate is the author of three personal essay collections, two novels, two poetry collections, a memoir of his teaching experiences, and a collection of his movie criticism. He has edited the following anthologies, and his essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, The Paris Review, Harper's, Vogue, E...more
More about Phillip Lopate...
To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan Writing New York: A Literary Anthology Getting Personal: Selected Essays American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now

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