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Today's prescription is in response to a question from a reader.
One of my favourite type of books are personal essays, stories that are snippets of stories from the writer’s life (or so we assume). They can be categorised as either fiction or non-fiction. I really love that sense of episodes, incidents, just odd personal stories. I’d describe them as droll, wry, funny, raw, honest etc. Fave examples are three New Zealand ones: Nostalgia has Ruined My Life by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Things I Learned at Art School by Megan Dunn, and Ashleigh Young's Can You Tolerate This? Can you recommend others?
These collections of personal essays offer a brave self-exposure combined with perceptive social commentary and critique, mixing autobiography and criticism, many of them comic, but often underlined by the very serious.
- Exploring love and sexuality with her characteristically neurotic wit is Katie Heaney in her collection of essays Would You Rather? A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out.
- Written between the beginning of the Covid pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, Zadie Smith’s Intimations describes the tangle of feelings provoked by the ever-evolving experience of lockdown.
- Chronicling moments in her life from her teens to her mid-thirties is Caitlin Moran’s collection, How to Be a Woman, who has said that she wrote with the aim of making feminism approachable.
- A series of madcap misadventures form the basis of Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley, from playing herself on Gossip Girl to befriending swingers.
- Though published as a novel, Patricia Lockwood described her book, No One is Talking About This, as autofictional, lacking a traditional plot and examining – among many, many themes – both family tragedy and the perils of a virtual life.
- Samantha Irby confronts the unspoken expectations of adult life in Wow, No Thank You, describing her experiences settling down in small-town American.
- Investigating how it might be possible to live an ethical life in a capitalist society are the essays by Eula Bliss, Having and Being Had.
- Using music and culture as a lens to view the world, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib writes about his experiences as a young Muslim in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.
- Musing on the personal and the philosophical, Jenny Allen’s debut essay collection, Would Everybody Please Stop? Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas, was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humour.
- In interwoven essays, Rachel Z Arndt looks at the numbers, data and facts which regulate, quantify and ascribe value to many aspects of our everyday lives – the rote scripts of dating apps, the sameness of the daily commute, weigh-ins and waiting times – in her book Beyond Measure.