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VINE VOICEon January 8, 2002
It's clear that reading good literature leads to improved writing. This anthology is a superb collection, selected and introduced by Phillip Lopate. Lopate is said to be one of the best essayists and critics of the personal essay. The book identifies itself as a "Teachers & Writers Collaborative Book". It is absolutely wonderful, a thick, heavy book full of pleasure and is dubbed as the "first anthology to celebrate this lively, fertile genre."

In his introduction, Lopate says of the personal essay: The hallmark of the personal essay is its intimacy. The writer seems to be speaking directly into your ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom. Through sharing thoughts, memories, desires, complaints, and whimsies, the personal essayist sets up a relationship with the reader, a dialogue, a friendship, if you will, based on identification, understanding, testiness, and companionship.

The introduction is with rich detail of everything you ever needed to know about the "personal essay". He delves into his selection, rationale and arrangement of this book. As I said, everything you ever needed to know is here!

The collection consists of 75 personal essays, spanning over 400 years. The first section is called the forerunners, these are the earliest dating from 1600's, including: Seneca, Plutarch, Kenko, Shonagon, Hsiu, Michel De Montaigne. Then, the rise of the English essay: Abraham Cowley, Addison & Steele, Samuel Johnson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginia Woolf, Orwell, etc.

Another section is titled "Other Cultures, Other Continents", some listed are: Ivan Turgenev, Lu Hsun, Jorge Luis Borges, Roland Barthes, etc. Last section is titled "American Scene" includes: Thoreau, Thurber, McCarthy, Fitzgerald, E.B. White, Baldwin, Didion, Lopate, etc., etc.

Then, he has all essays in a table of contents categorized by "Theme and Form". Some types of theme are are: ambition, city life, country living, death, drugs & alcohol, disability & illness, food, family ties, leisure, love and sexuality, music, nature, walking, race & ethnicity etc. etc.

The classifications of essays under "Form" list: analytical meditation, consolation, diatribe, humor, list, mossaic, memoir, etc., etc. Many of the essays may be cross-referenced into a few different classifications.

If you consider writing essay, this is a great tool and a real keeper. ..Rizzo
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on November 23, 2004
Laurie Stone, the essayist and creative writing teacher, recommended this book to me as the most essential volume on the personal essay. I could not agree more. The editor, Philip Lopate, is one of the most well-respected authors of the personal essay and he has compiled this anthology of pieces from the classical era to the present. The book works well for readers and writers alike. Lopate, in his lengthy introduction, gives an overview of the personal essay, and instructions on how to use this book as a learning tool. It is divided into several sections, beginning with the essay's forerunners in the classical period. Michel De Montaigne, the father of the personal essay, gets his own section. Personally, I did not find it useful to read the book cover-to-cover - I read it in reverse. I started out with the most recent, contemporary essays - those most accessible to me - and went backwards in order to see the devolution of the essay, as it were.

The essay is fast becoming one of my favorite forms - it is short, funny, and insightful. I highly recommend this book to ANYONE.
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VINE VOICEon October 18, 1999
A book that has travelled with me for years and well worth all the space in my limited luggage space. I would definitely take this book to a desert island and it would be a book that I would grab off its shelf if my house was on fire.
Time has made me appreciate the voices contained within its cover greatly.
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on November 26, 2003
There are a lot of really poor essay anthologies on the market. This is not one of them. Lopate himself is an accomplished writer, but he does his readers the great favor of including a broad range of authors, temporally and experientially. Many anthologies skip the masters (Montaigne, Orwell, Johnson) in favor of more modern--and less talented--authors. If you are looking for a single anthology of essays this is the one. It covers the entire genre like no other. And it is comparitively cheap too.
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on May 27, 2003
The book opens with a terrific overview of the personal essay. Not only does it discuss the place of creative nonfiction in the writing spectrum but it gets to the heart of the personal essay -how we express the human experience. Lopate walks us, the average reader, through the choosing and the parceling of these kinds of works and by the end we are prepared for the well laid journey ahead.
The voices are so varied - from George Orwell's beautifully written essay on life in a British boarding school to James Baldwin's piece on his father's death and life as a Black man in America. We feel with each author, cry with them and share in their triumphs. Though the styles are quite different from one author to the next, the common thread is each person's love of writing, their adept manipulation of language, and the most important element of the essay - their honesty in each line.
This is an excellent choice for those are learning the art of creative nonfiction or for those more seasoned readers or writers who truly want a satisfying read.
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on June 22, 2013
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 May and nearly 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 the personal essay, noting that it's "hallmark is it's intimacy". He also provides a comparison between personal and formal essays, indicating that, among other things, personal essays employ the familiar and use casual, everyday, language.

The book's divided into five sections to demonstrate both similarities and differences through time and geography. Starting with what Lopate calls "Forerunners", the first section focuses on the work of five authors from as early as 2,000 years ago. One of my favorites in this section was a piece by Japanese author, Sei Shonagon (a court lady from tenth century Japan), who wrote a short, caustic yet delightful essay called "Hateful Things".

The second section is devoted solely to Michel De Montaigne, who Lopate considers the grandmaster of the form, yet I didn't enjoy his work as much. I did find great pieces in the next three sections, which were named "The Rise of the English Essay", "Other Cultures, Other Continents" and "The American Scene". The essays provide poignant looks at the regrets, loves, personal demons, and families of writers like James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and E.B. White. I also discovered wonderful essayists I'd never heard of such as Gayle Pemberton and Richard Rodriquez.

If you love the written word, if you love connecting with people from previous generations and other cultures, if you want to learn some pretty intriguing stuff about famous authors, than this is a must-read book.
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on February 11, 2008
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 as Didion, Seneca, among many, many others. Despite the size, it's very easy to read through and find your own favorites thanks to the table that sorts the essays by theme.
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on March 24, 2013
The essay has long been a favorite form of writing, or should I say reading. And Lopate has gathered a treasure trove of the form. from tanizake's incredible "In Praise of Shadows", a unique revelation of Japanese design and form, revealing how pottery and other wares look most luminous in half light, to the philosophical masterworks of Robert Louis Stevenson, Orwell and many others, we are transported to the life of the mind, left to question our previous moral certitudes.
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on June 8, 2012
The introduction itself is invaluable. The author gives an excellent overview of the personal essay as a genre -- how the essay is put together, why it works, what makes it so charming and interesting. I've studied this intro closely and have strongly recommended it to my writer friends. In fact, I loaned my original copy of this book to someone in April but soon bought another because I didn't want to be without it until I see the person again in July. A reading treat, all the way through.
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on July 13, 2015
This book is full of all the classic essays and is an excellent resource for those studying writing. This book is an artifact of how culture has progressed over the centuries, and shows the evolution our perceptions. The editor, a teacher of the essay, put together the greatest in the field for this masterpiece. It's something great to have nearby on a shelf to refer or escape to without the commitment one needs for reading a book.
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