The Contemporary American Essay

Knopf Doubleday. Aug. 2021. 640p. ed. by Phillip Lopate. ISBN 9780525567325. pap. $18. LIT
This third, well-balanced volume of the essay series edited by Lopate collects 47 selections written from 2000 to the present. Several essays focus on how authors became writers while working other jobs: Thomas Beller’s “Portrait of the Bagel as a Young Man” details his work as an inventory clerk at H&H bagel shop in New York City; Yiyun Li’s “Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life” outlines the Chinese immunologist’s migration to America and how she struggles to write. Other essays focus on the writing life. Lopate’s own entry, “Experience Necessary,” explains his thoughts on aging and the essayist. John McPhee’s “Draft #4” is a must-read about the importance of writing and rewriting. Many entries provide memories such as Karen Russell’s “Beeper World” about the necessity of a beeper for her 14-year-old self. Several selections look at the funnier side of life such as Geoff Dyer’s “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition” about the right donut and the right cup of coffee, and “Domestic Gulags” by Laura Kipnis about what one cannot do when they’re in a couple.
VERDICT Recommended for libraries that have the first two volumes and for libraries where essays are popular.
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