I am most happy with the essay. It is my dessert after a lifetime of reading. The well written essay is usually economical in its use of words and language. The artful essayist knows the reader can quickly move on to something else without much of a lost investment in attention.
My favorite form of the essay is more apt to be informal and better described as the words of a noticer. I do not want the ordinary parts of life to go by unnoticed and not commented on. I like words and language that are plain and honest about some facet of life that deserves our attention. I like an essay that takes the particular and somehow makes it more universal as the essay is developed.
I especially appreciate the essay because it is a very direct form of thinking being shared by the writer with the reader. The essayist is giving the reader a window into the writer’s mind, a chance to see thinking going from place to place and staying coherent along the way. The well written essay has a beginning, a middle, and an end and they tie together logically.
It’s ok to have a dialogue with your reader in your essay. I think the best essays are written to include the reader and not just talk at him or her, but invite the reader to pull up a chair and visit with the writer and his thoughts.
I have some favorite essayists, real masters of this form of writing. At the top of my list is E.B. White. For sure, you know E.B. White because of some of his books like “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little,” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.” White wrote regularly for the “New Yorker” and for “Harper’s Magazine.” Many of his essays have been captured in book form and I will admit, they are at my beside table where I usually reach for some E.B. White until I cannot keep my eyes open any longer. My favorite essays are when White is writing about his saltwater farm in Brooklin, Maine. I learned that E.B. White and I have much in common, we both cannot get enough of the everyday life of work just to keep a place that contributes something to our subsistence. So much of this is about the effort, the trying, the finding a way. White shares these experiences in plain and honest writing.
Another of my favorite essay writers is Noel Perrin from Norwich, Vermont. Perrin was a professor at nearby Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for many years, but that is not the subject of his writing. Noel Perrin wrote a series of books full of his writings about being a part-time farmer and keeping a home in rural Vermont. You may have seen this series that starts with “First Person Rural” and is followed by “Second Person Rural,” “Third Person Rural,” and “Last Person Rural.”
Perrin finds all kinds of topics from cutting firewood, building stone walls, raising some farm animals, making maple syrup, opening up abandoned pasture, and many other pieces about rural living in Vermont. Having Vermont and rural life in common, Noel Perrin’s writing has been a good fit for me and he writes well. He writes essays like I like essays to be written, like a friend sharing with another friend something about life.
I’ll share one more of my favorites, Willem Lange. Again, a writer that lives close by and writes about his life in New England, and much of it being about his time in our Upper Valley on the Connecticut River. Lange also has a newspaper column, “A Yankee Notebook,” and this column appears in several New England newspapers. Willem Lange’s writing is also like spoiling yourself with a wee bit of a treat.
So, there are some very good essayists that have captured our every day lives in their writing. The writers I have shared write well and take little bits of life and make them universal. They are somewhat regional, but so am I. I will always be an old Yankee, and a Vermonter, just the salt of the earth. I will always try to share my thinking about something I have noticed and bring the reader along with my process. I will try to share some more of my thinking and observations of life that for the most part, will be very ordinary, yet hopefully universal too.
I’d love to be Willem Lange when I grow up. But, he is a special and unique storyteller, essayist, adventurist, and person. I admire the hell out of him and have mad respect for him. Happy to consider him a friend, but I think everyone he meets feels the same way. Ever onward, my friend. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Susan.
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