Reading Essays: An Invitation

Front Cover
University of Georgia Press, Jan 25, 2010 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 296 pages
Approaches abound to help us beneficially, enjoyably read fiction, poetry, and drama. Here, for the first time, is a book that aims to do the same for the essay. G. Douglas Atkins performs sustained readings of more than twenty-five major essays, explaining how we can appreciate and understand what this currently resurgent literary form reveals about the “art of living.”

Atkins’s readings cover a wide spectrum of writers in the English language--and his readings are themselves essays, gracefully written, engaged, and engaging. Atkins starts with the earliest British practitioners of the form, including Francis Bacon, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson. Transcendentalist writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson are included, as are works by Americans James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, and E. B. White. Atkins also provides readings of a number of contemporary essayists, among them Annie Dillard, Scott Russell Sanders, and Cynthia Ozick.

Many of the readings are of essays that Atkins has used successfully in the classroom, with undergraduate and graduate students, for many years. In his introduction Atkins offers practical advice on the specific demands essays make and the unique opportunities they offer, especially for college courses. The book ends with a note on the writing of essays, furthering the author’s contention that reading should not be separated from writing.

Reading Essays continues in the tradition of such definitive texts as Understanding Poetry and Understanding Fiction. Throughout, Atkins reveals the joy, delight, grace, freedom, and wisdom of “the glorious essay.”

 

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Contents

On Reading and Writing Essays
1
Montaigne and Bacon
18
John Drydens Prose and Poetic Essays
34
Alexander Popes An Essay on Criticism
47
Jonathan Swifts A Modest Proposal and the Immodesty of Satire
55
Samuel Johnsons The Solitude of the Country
62
An Allegory of Essaying? Process and Product inWilliam Hazlitts On Going a Journey
74
RalphWaldo Emersons Illusions
82
Scott Russell Sanderss Silence
167
Annie Dillards God in the Doorway
177
George Orwell the Essay and Reflections on Gandhi
181
Cynthia Ozicks The Seam of the Snail
190
Anne Fadiman as Common Reader in Eternal Ink
196
Sense and Sentences in Sam Pickerings Composing a Life
202
E B White as Recording Secretary in The Ring of Time
210
Control of Tone in Zora Neale Hurstons How It Feels to Be Colored Me
220

Henry David Thoreaus Walking and the Problematic of Transcendence
93
Alice Meynells Solitudes
103
Hilaire Bellocs The Mowing of a Field
110
G K Chestertons A Piece of Chalk
121
Or How Should One Read Virginia Woolf s The Death of the Moth?
128
T S Eliots Tradition and the Individual Talent
140
Richard Selzers A Worm from My Notebook
159
Candor and Compassion in Nancy Mairss On Being a Cripple
227
James Baldwins Notes of a Native Son
237
Edward Hoaglands What I Think What I Am
252
The Issue of Process versus Product with an essay by Cara McConnell
260
Works Cited
273
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About the author (2010)

G. Douglas Atkins is a professor of English at the University of Kansas. His other books include Tracing the Essay: Through Experience to Truth, Reading Essays: An Invitation, and Estranging the Familiar: Toward a Revitalized Critical Writing (all Georgia). His book Reading Deconstruction/Deconstructive Reading was named an Outstanding Academic Book by Choice magazine.