Essays

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissell

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

Tom Bissell's Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creations represents the best of what an essay collection can offer: incisive observations about a wide range of intriguing topics, intelligent social commentary that refrains from didacticism, and a good sense of comedic timing. Bissell's essays are characterized by impressive eclecticism. He discusses established cultural figures like Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, and Werner Herzog, as well as less conventional subjects, such as Tommy Wiseau (the auteur responsible for the cult film The Room), the Underground Literary Alliance, and Jennifer Hale, “the Queen of Video-game Voice-over.” While these topics might seem incurably disparate, Bissell's interest in the process and consequences of creation provides a framework which links them together.

The Best American Travel Writing: 2002

By Frances Mayes, editor

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Giving new life to armchair travel for 2002 are David Sedaris on God and airports, Kate Wheeler on a most dangerous Bolivian festival, Andre Aciman on the eternal pleasures of Rome, and many more. Also available on audio.

Look for other years' collections as well.

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Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt

Not all stand-up comedians can translate their live energy and timing into textual representation. For Patton Oswalt, however, the transition from stage to page feels effortless and strangely appropriate. In Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, Oswalt treats us to an engaging romp through a motley assortment of his personal experiences, pop-culture obsessions, and comedic experiments. Oswalt introduces the book with a very appropriate confession: “Comedy and terror and autobiography and comics and literature – they’re all the same thing. To me.” And, for once, he isn’t joking.

Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is extremely eclectic, which makes it difficult to relegate to a singular category.  There are sections that lean towards the autobiography/memoir side of the spectrum. But there are also humor pieces and miscellaneous experiments, such as an illustrated chapter that feels like a slightly zanier, compressed version of Dylan Dog. There is also an epic poem dedicated to Ulvaak, the last character Oswalt played in Dungeons and Dragons. While the sheer variety of Zombie’s vignettes might seem overwhelming, the book is actually compulsively readable. I found myself eagerly turning the pages, wondering what Oswalt’s fevered brain would churn out next.

The Sewing Room: Uncommon Reflections on Life, Love, and Work

By Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

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A gentle book of very special and endearing essays on sometimes difficult subjects by a female Episcopal minister.
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The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-five Years in the Northern Wilderness

By John Haines

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For 25 years the poet John Haines lived, trapped, and hunted on the windswept hills above the Tanana River east of Fairbanks, Alaska. In this remarkable collection of essays he turns a poet's eye on his existence there and captures a life lived for the sake of survival.
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Two Classics of the French Revolution: Reflections on the Revolution in France

By Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine

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This volume contains two works, one of which is "The Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine, which supported the French Revolution, and for which Paine was indicted for treason in England in 1792.

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The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader

By Woody Allen

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Selections from published and never-before-published works are collected in a work that features film excerpts, one-liners, essays, stand-up routines, Allen's classic New Yorker pieces, screenplays, film outtakes, magazine articles, and interviews.

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Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's, Humor Category

By Dave Eggers, editor

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"The fine people of "McSweeney's" have put together a preposterously funny collection that offers a wealth of useful information--a consistently hilarious selection of brainy, wild humor from one of America's most popular literary magazines."

Sample contents: - A Brief Parody of a Talk Show That Falls Apart about Halfway through - The Spirit of Christmas - The Briefing: A Play in One Act - On the Implausibility of the Death Star's Trash Compactor - Preview of Summer Camps Comments Written on Evaluations of My Speech on Needle-Exchange Programs

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Coyote v. Acme

By Ian Frazier

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"The title essay imagines the opening statement of an attorney for cartoon character Wile E. Coyote in a product liability suit against the Acme Company, supplier of unpredictable rocket sleds and faulty spring-powered shoes. Other essays are about the golfing career of comedian Bob Hope, a commencement address given by a Satanist college president, a suburban short story attacked by Germans, the problem of issues versus non-issues, and the theories of revolutionary stand-up comedy from Comrade Stalin."

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The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson

What makes good bedside reading? I’m talking about that particular kind of reading that consists of paying close attention for about ten minutes, dozing for ten more, then waking with a jerk as the book crashes to the floor. This is not the place for “War and Peace.” 

I’ve found that two kinds of books lend themselves to the bedside. The first are the tried and true books that I can happily read over and over, even re-reading chapters or skipping them by mistake with no loss to the reading experience. Thank you, Angela Thirkell, Margery Allingham, and Betty MacDonald.
 
The second kind of bedside reading consists of short pieces, such as stories or essays. They can’t be too demanding, of course – no Montaigne, no Faulkner. For this kind of reading, I thank authors like L. Rust Hills (“How to Do Things Right, or the Confessions of a Fussy Man”), Eleanor Perenyi (“Green Thoughts, A Writer in the Garden”), and James Thurber (just about anything). Each is entertaining, and each is forgiving – because of length or lightness of touch – of a short attention span.

My newest addition to the bedside table is of the second sort.  Geoff Nicholson’s “The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism,” despite its daunting title, is really a series of personal essays on walking.