There are academic essays. I’ve written a few, I look forward to write more. However, in general, academic essays can be somewhat dry, or formulaic. They don’t have to be, and I’ve read some amazing, beautifully written ones. For example, the recent Grey Ecology by J.J. Cohen I mentioned in this earlier post.
I used to read only fiction, but in the past ten years I got interested into non fiction and the art of the essay. I own, but haven’t finished reading yet, Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends. It’s a brilliant collection of essays, ranging in topics from the personal to the social.
I googled these definitions of essay:
A short work of nonfiction in which an authorial voice typically invites an implied reader to accept as authentic a certain textual mode of experience.
and this one:
a prose composition with a focused subject of discussion
a long, systematic discourse
A short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author
I like this cover, just an example of how essays are a long standing tradition (well, ancient Greece and all that, and before that too). But mostly, I like the cover.
There are many books out there on how to write essays (academics or creative non-fiction), but I do believe that the best way to start is to read good essays.
This list: The Top Ten Essays Since 1950, by Robert Atwan, claims to have selected ten of the best essays, including Susan Sontag, James Baldwin and David Foster Wallace. The author also says this is a list of essay, not essayists, and of course in making a list, there are always left outs as worthy of being included.
Still, the list is a great starting point to read essays that made an impression, for the language, the content, the opinion. And many are linked in the article. Enjoy reading!