Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Anne, Hang on!

posted by xscot mcknight

At one point in the history of writing this blog, I thought I’d do a series on my favorite essayists. I think the series got off the ground with my favorite essayist and then fizzled: Joseph Epstein. I suppose it is a mistake to begin with the best. For years I devoured The American Scholar journal because Epstein was its editor and a regular contributor. Then he moved aside and Anne Fadiman assumed his fountain pen elegance. Then they sacked Anne and I dropped my subscription. There was something unique about The American Scholar — the familiar essay.
In her new book, At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman, Anne Fadmian collects a dozen of her familiar essays. I relish good familiar essays so much I’ll only read one of these per week — even though I’ve already read most of them. What, you ask, is a familiar essay? Glad you asked because that was what I thought I should jot down next!
“His viewpoint was subjective,” Anne says of the prototypes in Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt, “his frame of reference concrete, his style digressive, his eccentricities conspicuous, and his laughter usually at his own expense.” She uses the male pronoun for a reason: Her father, Clifton Fadiman, once said women didn’t write familiar essays because “the form does not attract them.” Anne has a response: “Well, it attracts me.” And her book attracts me: a lovely font, a book small enough to fit perfectly in my hand, clothbound so it lasts, and content that makes me want to sit on my porch and enjoy the pleasure of someone who knows how to make words play their proper game.
There are today many critical essays (more brain than heart) and personal essays (more heart than brain) but not enough familiar essays (a balance of the two). They are a blend of “narcissism and curiosity” and many are saying the familiar essay’s days are numbered. But, not for Anne.
And not for me. With her I hope “no dirge, gentle or otherwise,” quoting her father again, “need ever be sung to lament its passing.”
If you find the pace of the familiar essay to slow for you, you are too busy. Friendship, which creates the space for the familiar essay, isn’t in a hurry and neither is Anne. So, sit down with At Large and At Small and Enjoy! She’ll be a friend in no time.
Yep, familiar essays tend to be written by the sophisticates and border at times on snobbery and the essayists quote folks without footnotes from sources that are definitely highbrow, but if you want a piece to read to a friend over coffee, nothing works like a familiar essay. Nothing. It’s simply designed for that setting. Two friends, together, who take a line of thought out for a walk with no purpose other than the enjoyment of conversing together.
The best Christian familiar essayist is Alan Jacobs. John Wilson, the marvelous editor at Books and Culture, has wisely opened his door to the essays of Jacobs.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(7)
post a comment
John Frye

posted June 28, 2007 at 7:57 am


As I read I asked “What is a ‘familiar essay’?” and, bingo!, you anticipated my question. I admit that I am new to this kind of writing.I’ll check it out. I’m taking your word for it :)



report abuse
 

My 2 cents

posted June 28, 2007 at 8:08 am


I loved her book Ex Libris. Oh, dear, now my list is growing again with these books you are reviewing.



report abuse
 

cas

posted June 28, 2007 at 8:30 am


“The Art of Fact” is a literary journalism collection that I love. Not sure if they are familiar essays, but they are delightful.
Now, you’ve given me two books to purchase in one week. What will I do?



report abuse
 

Andie

posted June 28, 2007 at 8:52 am


Not really clear on exactly what we were talking about here, I jumped over to Amazon and looked up Anne Fadiman to see if there were samples to read, and violá, I found that Ex Libris/u> was offered a sample reading. I can hardly wait to get the book after reading the first part of her first essay, “Marrying Libraries.” I’ve promised myself I’m going to finish Pope Benedict’s book before I get anymore, however, and I don’t want to rush this book.
Thanks, Scot!



report abuse
 

Andie

posted June 28, 2007 at 8:54 am


OOPS! I guess I was careless with my html. :) I meant to underline Ex Libris. Hopefully, this time, I’ve put them in correctly. :(



report abuse
 

Andie

posted June 28, 2007 at 8:58 am


I guess I’m doing something wrong.



report abuse
 

John Dunham

posted June 28, 2007 at 8:59 pm


I enjoyed hearing about the familiar essay on All Things Considered in an interview with Ms. Fadiman. She is delightful and funny. To read or listen to the interaction and portions of essays: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10785932



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.