The word essay makes many of us shiver, thinking of A-Level exams. But a book of essays written by someone else is a joy. In the best essay collections the writer’s personality comes through strongly, so you feel as though you’ve spent time with your smartest, funniest acquaintance. These are our favourite collections.
THE MOST-TALKED ABOUT
No one could ever say Jonathan Franzen was over-looked. The author of novels Freedom and The Corrections is probably the most celebrated author of our time. Father Away is his latest non-fiction collection, covering everything from bird-watching
on remote islands to his thoughts on the suicide of his friend, the writer David Foster Wallace.
THE ESSAY CLASSIC
Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a modern classic and focuses, for the most part, on California during the Sixties. Her sentences are clear and elegant and she’s able to dispassionately consider a range of topics from the seedy side of the hippie counter culture to an American military cemetery in Hawaii. FSG Classics, £8.68
OFF-BEAT AND GLEEFUL
Known for appearing in John Waters’ films (Crybaby, Hairspray), Cookie Mueller, as readers of Ask Dr. Mueller will discover, accidentally burned down a friend’s house. She also travelled the world and was nearly picked up by Charles Manson. Her writing is hilarious and feels like the key to the American underground from San Francisco in the Sixties to New York in the Eighties. From £22, out of print)
YOU, BUT FUNNIER
Sloane Crosley is a girl everybody likes. She’s sweet, self-deprecating, clever and hugely, hugely funny. I Was Told There’d Be Cake covers everything from her embarrassment at having a stash of plastic ponies under her sink to the misery of a friend’s wedding. She’s great. Read this and start hoping she’ll be your friend one day. Portobello, £7.99
WILL CAUSE ARGUMENTS
Many people love Christopher Hitchens’ writing. Very few of them agreed with him all of the time. Hitchens, who died last year, supported the war on Iraq, was critical of all religion and had strong feelings on everyone from Princess Diana to Harry Potter. Arguably is the last collection of his journalism: you’ll appreciate the brilliant writing even as you want to throw it at the wall. Atlantic, £16.99