Every single essay on this list is a story that had to be told. Every single one had me nodding my head and thinking, “Yes. I needed to read this right now.” I love fiction and I love poetry but there’s just something about personal essay and memoir that I love more. I think it’s the common thread of real life experiences and that someone, somewhere has walked in your shoes and written about it. Or someone has been through something you haven’t, but might, and written about it. I think it’s one reason I don’t care to read fantasy fiction – real life is so much more interesting.
I hope I’ve chosen excerpts from each essay that will pique your interest to click over. You do not want to miss any of them!
A Church for All by Andrew Clark in The Wrath-Bearing Tree.
“You see, papaw didn’t dislike Christ. He disliked Christians. Maybe not all of them, but damn near most. He was an expert at finding and pointing out hypocrisy on the part of men of the cloth, or people in local congregations who were in church on Sunday morning, but anything but Christ-like Monday through Saturday.”
I Did Like Butter by Pia Z. Earnhardt in Narrative Magazine.
“If only the front desk had known my mom when she’d visit my grammar school on career day to play her violin, this elegant artist, pretty as a star, her hair sleek in a bun, silver bracelets jingling on her bow arm. I’d blush, bursting with pride. But I learned from a young age that her life was a performance to be admired from a distance, on a stage, by an audience, and that children stand too close.”
My First VHS: Rain Man by James Tate Hill in Hobart.
“Like Hoffman’s character, you can no longer drive. Have your classmates noticed your absence from the school parking lot? Do they know why? Some lingering peripheral vision lets you pretend you’re the same person, but anyone near your desk must have seen your special notebook paper, noticed how you aren’t in class for quizzes and tests. Your two closest friends know, but the friends with whom you used to sit in the library and cafeteria rarely speak to you.”
In Twenty-three Days He’ll Be Gone by Michele Finn Johnson in Booth.
“Dad drives me to the airport. He blasts the LeSabre’s heat, and the car windows begin to sweat. Dad’s hands tremor on the steering wheel. It’s freezing, he says. Are you cold? He’s got a navy scarf tied around his neck, and his winter coat is buttoned to its tip-top.”
The Crane Wife by C.J. Hauser in The Paris Review.
“Another time he gave me a birthday card with a sticky note inside that said BIRTHDAY. After giving it to me, he explained that because he hadn’t written in it, the card was still in good condition. He took off the sticky and put the unblemished card into our filing cabinet.
I need you to know: I hated that I needed more than this from him. There is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires. Nothing that makes me hate myself more than being burdensome and less than self-sufficient. I did not want to feel like the kind of nagging woman who might exist in a sit-com.
Self Care by Meagan Lucas in Tiny Essays.
“I am vain, but I am not stupid. I know that this crisis is not just about just skin, about the constant battle to feel okay with my body, but about the passage of time, and my place along the continuum of it. Maybe self care is simply the reminder of the ability to be reborn. That no matter where I am, no matter who I’ve become, I can still be fresh and new.”
Fig Season by Lena Crown in Pidgeonholes
“Nurseries are better for dates than art museums because you can talk about things you’re made of, like the morning glories that scaled the walls of your preschool or the Meyer lemons your mom devoured while she was pregnant with you. The air smells of raw sugar and there are no tourists learning how to look at art through walkie-talkies, instead there are just plants and people who like to spend afternoons drifting like unhurried honeybees among the potted monstera and patches of pansies and trellises of trumpet vines.”
Whole 60 by Laura Lippman in Longreads.
“What is new is that I have decided, at the age of 60, that I am a goddamn knockout. Like Dorothy at the end of the film version of The Wizard of Oz, I had the power I sought all along. I rub my thighs together — sorry, couldn’t resist — and tell myself over and over that I am beautiful and, what do you know, suddenly I am. Then I cup my hand over my 9-year-old daughter’s gorgeous, solid abdomen and tell her she is beautiful, too.”