An Essay On Attempting To Read Essays

It’s no secret that I like to read. And I read a lot. And while I have my favorite genres, which probably 80% of the books I read fall into, I do read a bit of everything—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short story.

I have even read a couple horror genre books (a la Stephen King), which is not my genre at all. (Although I just googled “horror books” and several of my favorite classic books popped up, including Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Who knew?! Maybe I need to rethink my stance on horror.)

But one book genre I just cannot get into is the essay collection.

A book of essays is exactly what it sounds like.  A collection of essays like you’d read in the op-ed section of a paper or magazine. Or in other words, the non-fiction version of the short story.

Recently, I have picked up three of these essay books based on rave recommendations and funny titles:

  1. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling  (yes, I know she’s supposed to be super funny)
  2. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley (a great title because there should always be cake)
  3. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul (my most recent attempt).

I did not finish one of these books.

I actually find it weird because I love to read biographies and memoirs. I laughed so hard I cried when reading Jenny Lawson’s (aka The BloggessLet’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir. I was moved to tears when reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. And I thoroughly enjoyed Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet.

I can’t figure out the disconnect.

Some of it is the style of writing in these modern essays that doesn’t work for me. I found the essays I did read in all three books disjointed, rambling, and somewhat poorly written to me. Even within an individual essay, there would be flow and structural problems.

A part of is was I didn’t connect with the author or relate on any level to her life (as coincidentally each of these have been essays about the author’s life). I felt each of these authors was trying too hard to be funny and show that they were “weird” or an outcast or “uncool” growing up and/or had a dysfunctional family or oddball parents. But what it did was come across as inauthentic and forced.

And then maybe my expectations were too high. I mean when the blurbs compare it an author to David Sedaris and Dorothy Parker, who wouldn’t have high expectations? But whatever the reason, and despite the rave reviews, I will be one of the few to dislike each of these 3 books. Nothing against these authors or their lives. But I ultimately found these books to be uninspired.

So in failing again to finish my most recent attempt, I am now admitting defeat in this genre. And once again, I am adding biographical essay book to the DNF (did-not-finish) list (which is currently up to 14 books).

I hate adding books to the DNF list. I feel like a failure each time. But there are too many books to be discovered and read for me to waste time and effort reading something I just don’t enjoy.

I’m not throwing the genre of biographical essays completely out the door. I will never disown an entire genre just because of a few I didn’t care for. But I probably will hesitate and think twice the next time one comes along with its witty title and rave reviews.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones did you enjoy or not? What genre do you prefer? Tell me in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “An Essay On Attempting To Read Essays

  1. I listened to numbers 1 and 2 on your list in audiobook form. Each was read by the author, and I found them entertaining and funny. Are they the best literature I’ve ever read? No, but I thought they made for some nice, light listening, and I did find them relatable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know I am in the minority as there are many, many glowing reviews on the various book sites. So while these books didn’t translate well for me on the page, I see how each essay might come across better if orally recited. So maybe hearing them via audiobook instead of reading them is the key.


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