Best American Essays of 2008

August 11, 2009

Me and Janessa walk into Borders.  The best part of the store is within 2 feet of the entrance: Bargains! On the cheap shelf, there are a few mismatched books from some children’s series; books 5 and 9 are decidedly un-tempting.  Janessa sits on the floor and begins flipping through a book of botched wedding pictures, while I absent-mindedly continue snooping. On the lowest left shelf I uncover a book so ordinary (boring perhaps?) that it’s no wonder it ended up on the bargain rack.  The Best American Essays of 2008 is stamped across the cover in block font with no graphics or tag-lines in sight.  The most appealing part of the cover is the bight yellow sticker: $3.99!  How can I say no!

Getting home, I read the introduction and am immediately glad of my purchase (which, incidentally came out to be $1 rather than the advertised $4).  For 3 days I have not let the book rest, devouring essay after essay.  I’ve felt what’s it’s like to be the mother of an ill child.  I’ve listened to the lament of a man watching his partner die of aids.  I’ve learned about beads, I’ve learned about Leica cameras, I’ve learned about old age.  I’m transfixed by the various authors’ fascination and emotion for their subjects,  but the single quote that remains italicized in my mind comes from the introduction, “Each one of these essays asks the essayist’s essential question, which is not the preacher’s or polemicist’s question –how shall we live?- but Montaigne’s questions: what does it feel like to be alive?”  So I began reading, to learn what being alive feels like to others.

3 essays in I was convinced of this: life is fascinating, and I am not.  4 essays in I began to lament for the amount of time I’ve spent being boring and for the poor souls I’ve bored along the way.  I’m now 7 essays in and determined to change my ways. To no longer avoid the science fiction section of half-price books, or the sea-food page of the menu.  To no longer order the orange crème slush when I know that sonic carries over 1,000 different flavors.  To give the shack another try. To finally listen to that fiery furnaces album all the way through!

These simple essays have reminded me that life is amazing to those with a mind for fascination: people who don’t write things off easily, or say things like that’s just not my thing.  (I admit I’ve used that phrase quite effectively for a number of years now, it’s gotten me out of many a jam).  But 22 years in I find life can be quite dull for lack of exploration and imagination.  And thankfully I have 21 more volumes of “The best American Essays” to help awaken my curiosity.


2 Responses to “Best American Essays of 2008”

  1. Brett Says:

    I love when I read something that stirs me to action. Can’t wait to see where these essays take you. Also, the question “what does it feel like to be alive?” really has me thinking.

  2. steve H Says:

    First off, I loved the way you wrote this post. Most excellent. Second, I need to borrow the book! peace my friend.


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