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The Art of the Personal Essay Hardcover – January 1, 1994

4.8 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Essayist Lopate ( Against Joie de Vivre , Poseidon Pr., 1991, among others) has selected and introduced some 75 personal essays, covering over 400 years, from the East as well as the West, in an attempt to show the development of the genre. The result is a fascinating overview that could be useful in teaching situations. Given the personal nature of the pieces, it may also appeal to general readers who enjoy biography and autobiography. Lopate considers the personal essay to be a sort of friendship based on "the supposition that there is a certain unity to human experience." He devotes extensive space to Montaigne, "the patron saint of personal essayists," but we also hear from unfamiliar voices, such as a tenth-century Japanese court lady, and from special branches of the essay, such as the American humorists. Of interest to both academic and public libraries.
- Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A wonderful book. The most  charming smorgasbord imaginable of essays from  around the world." -- Diane Cole, USA  Today.

"Without a doubt,  this is the most nourishing essay collection I've  read in years." -- Susan Burmeister-Brown,  Portland  Oregonian.

"A labor of deeply felt love and keenly honed  scholarship by an essay authority who knows his  territory down to his bones." --  Christian Science Monitor.

"The  best available [essay anthology] no matter how  crowded the field." -- Chicago  Tribune.

"The striking thing is  how much Lopate has managed to pack in, and how  high a standard he has managed to main- tain."  -- John Gross, New York  Newsday.

"Packed with personality and  beguiling first-person prose... of reminders of the  perils and pleasures of the craft." --  The Wall Street Journal.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 777 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (January 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385422989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385422987
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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By A Customer on May 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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