We can only offer STORE CREDIT for book buy back at this time. [details]
 

Essays & Letters

Essays are potentially the greatest literary form. Three things are necessary to make an excellent essay: an idea, economy of language, and an engaging style. You don't have long to get the reader on your side in an essay, so you'd better try from the beginning. Some of the best writers have spent most of their careers writing essays, and they continue to make some of the best reading and some of the best texts for teaching writing.

The poorly executed essay, on the other hand, can make for some of the most arduous reading imaginable. Ralph Waldo Emerson may have been one of the first truly American intellectuals, and he certainly helped found one of the new nation's greatest literary movements (Transcendentalism), but his essays are mere soups of words, jumbled thoughts expressing only the idea that clarity of thought or expression is impossible. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider a statement by the diminutive New Englander: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."

A capable writer like Twain, however, understood the power of the short work. As his essays exemplified, you don't start or end vaguely; to capture the reader's imagination and affect his thoughts, you begin in familiar territory, lead him through unfamiliar places, and conclude by showing how what was unfamiliar is now recognizable.

To do this repeatedly without merely treading the same few steps over and over takes a brilliant writer. One of the ablest modern practitioners of the essay is Annie Dillard, many of whose books are simply collections of shorter works. Her poetic vision lights little fires on the page, which when read become full blazes. Yet her effect isn't destructive; Dillard unites the elegance of language with the primitive terror of nature and the holy in ways that make us see the beauty of both in new ways.

Letters are often just personal essays. One of the exchanges one makes for greatness is the right to postmortem privacy, and we read the letters of people like Heloise and Abelard, Thomas Jefferson, and Winston Churchill to discover the secret of their greatness. What we usually find is the one universal feature of great writers—a vigorous and well-organized mind.

This is the secret of good writing, after all: the ability to think plainly and translate those thoughts to the page. Essays and letters (when done well) illuminate this skill largely because of their brevity (unless you're Kafka writing to your parents). There's no time to get lost when the path is short, and even less when that path is lit by eloquence and wit. If you write and you want to get better, read some good essays and imitate what you find.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

Did you find this review helpful?
57 Items found Print
American Childhood
by Annie Dillard
1st Edition from HarperCollins
Classic Literature for Adult
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Annie Dillard Reader
by Annie Dillard
1st edition from Harper Perennial
for Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Areas of My Expertise
by John Hodgman
1st edition from Dutton Adult
for Adult
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Brownings: Letters and Poetry
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning
from International Collectors Library
for 9th-12th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$6.40 (1 in stock)
C. S. Lewis - Signature Classics Boxed Set
by C. S. Lewis
Box from HarperOne
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$60.80
Essays of Francis Bacon
by Francis Bacon
from Peter Pauper Press
for 10th-Adult
$2.00 (1 in stock)
Essays of Michael Montaigne
by Michel de Montaigne
3rd edition from Penguin Classics
for 11th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
$17.00
Essays of Montaigne
by Michel de Montaigne
from Grolier Publishing
for 10th-Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Essays: First and Second Series
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
from Library of America
for 11th-Adult
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Gift from the Sea
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
from Pantheon Books
for Adult
$2.00 (1 in stock)
Gift from the Sea
by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
from Pantheon Books
for 10th-Adult
$2.00 (1 in stock)
Gilbert Keith Chesterton
by Maisie Ward
from Sheed & Ward
for 9th-Adult
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$8.00 (1 in stock)
Good Medicine
by Charles M. Russell
from Doubleday & Company
for 7th-Adult
in Clearance: History & Geography (Location: BLG-07D)
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Grand Miracle
by C. S. Lewis
from Ballantine Books
for 10th-Adult
$2.00 (1 in stock)
Heretics
by G. K. Chesterton
from Dover Publications
Philosophy/Religion for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$7.61
Household Words: A Weekly Journal Volume X
by Charles Dickens
from J. A. Dix
for 10th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$36.00 (1 in stock)
Image and Imagination
Canto Classics
by C. S. Lewis
from Cambridge University
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$16.99
In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton
by G. K. Chesterton
Standard print edition from Ignatius Press
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$16.96
John and Charles Wesley: Selected Writings and Hymns
by Charles Wesley, John Wesley
1st edition from Paulist Press
for 10th-Adult
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Johnson's Dictionary: A Modern Selection
by Samuel Johnson
from Modern Library
for 10th-Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Letters & Papers from Prison
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Enlarged from Charles Scribner's Sons
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$3.20 (1 in stock)
Letters and Papers from Prison
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
from Simon and Schuster
Biography for Adult
in Practical Christian Living (Location: C03-02E)
$12.00
Letters by a Modern Mystic
by Frank C. Laubach
3rd edition from Purposeful Design Publications
for Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Letters of Abelard and Heloise
by Peter Abelard, Heloise
Revised from Penguin Putnam
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
$6.40 (1 in stock)
Letters of C.S. Lewis
by C. S. Lewis
Reissue from HarperOne
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$16.99
Letters of Geerhardus Vos
by Geerhardus Vos, James T. Dennison, Jr.
from P&R Publishing
for Adult
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$18.00
Letters of Spiritual Counsel
by Martin Luther
from Westminster John Knox Press
for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
$11.20 (1 in stock)
Letters to Children
by C. S. Lewis
from Charles Scribner's Sons
Autobiographical Letters for 3rd-9th grade
in Fantasy Fiction (Location: A07-02A)
$12.75
Letters to Seabiscuit
from Seven Locks Press
for 4th-8th grade
in Animal Stories (Location: A06-03A)
$4.80 (1 in stock)
Matter of Eternity
by Dorothy L. Sayers
1st edition from Eerdmans
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$4.80 (1 in stock)
Nature Walking
by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson
from Beacon Press
for 9th-Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
On Liberty and Other Essays
by John Stuart Mill
from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
On Stories
by C. S. Lewis
Reissue from HarperOne
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$11.89
Orthodoxy
by G. K. Chesterton
from Ignatius Press
Philosophy/Religion for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Personal Heresy
by C. S. Lewis
Reissue from HarperOne
for 11th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$12.74
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
by Annie Dillard
from HarperCollins
Meditation/Philosophy for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$13.59
Poor Richard's Almanack
by Benjamin Franklin
from Peter Pauper Press
for 7th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: CLT-18C)
$8.46 $5.60 (1 in stock)
Poor Richard's Almanacks
International Collector's Library
by Benjamin Franklin
from International Collectors Library
for 9th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: CLT-18C)
$5.20 (1 in stock)
Portable Thomas Jefferson
by Thomas Jefferson
from Penguin Classics
for 11th-Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Practicing His Presence
by Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach
from Seedsowers
for Adult
in Spiritual Disciplines (Location: C07-01A)
$8.50
Present Concerns
by C. S. Lewis
Reprint from HarperOne
for 11th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$11.04
Rasselas, Poems, and Selected Prose
by Samuel Johnson
3rd edition from Holt, Rinehart and Winston
for 10th-Adult
$4.00 (1 in stock)
Reflections on the Psalms
by C. S. Lewis
Reprint from HarperOne
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$11.89
Revival Lectures
by Charles G. Finney
from Fleming H Revell Co.
for 10th-Adult
$2.00 (2 in stock)
Revivals of Religion
The Christian Classics
by Charles G. Finney
from Unknown Publisher
for Adult
in Practical Christian Living (Location: C03-02E)
$5.00 (1 in stock)
Self-Reliance & Other Essays
from CreateSpace
for 10th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$7.99
Self-Reliance and Other Essays
Dover Thrift Editions
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
from Dover Publications
for 9th-Adult
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
$2.98
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
by Jonathan Edwards
from Bridge-Logos
for 10th-Adult
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Solzhenitsyn Reader
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
2nd Edition from Intercollegiate Studies Institute
for 11th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$18.70
Teaching a Stone to Talk
by Annie Dillard
Revised from Harper Perennial
for 10th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$12.74
12