Alter How You Look At The World

Stonehenge, taken a few years ago. I can’t wait to go back.

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I’m a sucker for the “Best Of” essays, but the truth is that I usually thumb through most of the pieces and read very few of them from start to finish.  No patience here, not even for “the best.”

This year is an exception.  I’ve read every single essay from David Brooks’s selections, from start to finish.  There’s the one by Mark Doty about the connection between Bram Stoker and Walt Whitman; Miah Arnold, who teaches kids with cancer at MD Anderson in Texas; Dr. Ken Murray’s take on what doctors choose for end-of-life care; Garret Keizer’s profound experience of going back to teach high school after a long hiatus; Jonathan Franzen’s essay on David Foster Wallace; Mark Edmundson’s take on kids’ unrealistic expectations of college; the importance of being bored, surviving menopause without becoming a total bitch, and taking drugs that make you fat but save your mind.

This morning I went early to the gym to grab a tennis court and read Dudley Clendinen’s “The Good Short Life,” about a man who is dealing with the insidious ALS and has something to say before he goes.  It just so happens I play tennis with a woman who has been diagnosed with ALS this year.  She’s still playing (and playing great!) but her speech is going.  It’s hard for her to communicate the simplest words.  And all in just a few short months….

In David Brooks’s forward for this collection, he says:  I had so many jewels to choose from.  I tried to pick ones that crystallize an emotion, in the belief that reading them will add to your emotional repertoire.  I tried to pick ones with new or daring ideas that will alter how you look at the world.  I tried, in short, to pick ones that will be useful to you.  That, I’m afraid, is a middlebrow activity.  But I plead guilty.  I want to be improved by the things I read.

If you’re looking to learn — or even to laugh, because there are many, many laughs — buy this book.  This collection is proof that you don’t have to be famous or write perfectly or have all the right turns of phrase; this collection is proof that you just need to have something to say.  And be honest enough to say it.

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21 thoughts on “Alter How You Look At The World

  1. lisahgolden

    I do love essays. I swear I need a cave wired with electricity but no wi-fi, a comfy chair, snacks and lots and lots of time in which to do nothing but read.

    1. Teri Post author

      This is the best essay collection I’ve seen in awhile. Sometimes it’s too pretentious, but not this year.

  2. Lyra

    I’m a sucker for the “Best of…” collections. They’re perfect for commutes because I feel like I’ve gotten to the heart of it before the train stops. It’s so nice to start off the day with a full story in my head.

    1. Teri Post author

      “with a full story in my head.” You just described what I love about writing a short story or essay —- I can keep it all in my head without getting completely lost.

    1. Teri Post author

      I think you did, but why would we go to that old place when your back porch was so inviting, with coffee close by!

  3. jpon

    Thanks for this, Teri. I always read the Best of Fiction volumes, but it’s clearly time to expand my reading to the essays as well.

  4. macdougalstreetbaby

    I love the idea of adding to one’s emotional repertoire. To me, that’s the point right there.

  5. Josephine

    “…I went early to the gym to grab a tennis court and read…” i love this; this adding “and read” to any situation. I see you with your book waiting on a court to clear, grabbing a few pages before you’re on to your next thing. it’s why i like going to breakfast and/or lunch by myself. to read. or waiting on my ob-gyn. or my daughter while she takes karate classes. i like going to the movies early, by myself, and reading all the way up until the lights lower. it’s why i always buy bigger purses than most–i need something that can handle a pynchon-sized hardback and a few magazines.

    i’m sorry about your friend.

    (I’m waiting for an upcoming issue of Best of California Writing–I hear it’s going to be stellar.)

    1. Teri Post author

      “it’s why I always buy bigger purses” than I really need —- If it can’t hold a book, it’s a no-go. Period.

      And thank you.

    1. Teri Post author

      Brooks is so painfully pretentious and conservative, I almost didn’t buy this edition. I guess he can’t help himself….

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