The art of the essay (not the sort that you’re assigned in school and fill out begrudgingly following Cicero’s recommended intro-three argument points-conclusion format) is a lost one. We live in an era in which quantity of content is far preferable to quality. One killer Op-Ed is hardly considered a worthy year’s output, while a flood of tweets and words to fill columns and produce more clicks is the way to go. This is a shame, because the Essay as an art form should be right up there with poetry, short fiction (another wounded beast), and the novel. I’m talking about literary essays–humorous articles are doing alright, as are memoir-style confessionals, literary criticism, and Gonzo-journalism descriptions of first-person investigation. But essays about ideas, explorations, revelations–the sort of essays that Montaigne wrote by the quivering glow of candle light, simply do not pay big bucks these days. And so the art form has grown marginalized.
But there is one great, prominent practitioner who remains a beacon to aspiring penmen. Andre Aciman is the subject of this week’s How I Write interview, part of the series that I prepare for The Daily Beast that comes out every Wednesday. His essay collection, Alibis, was just released in paperback. It contains one of the best of all contemporary essays, “Lavender,” which is a master-class for aspiring writers of all genres. Have a look at the interview here.