Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Essay: "The Knife." Richard Selzer.



Review: Poetic and literal impressions of a surgeon wielding the knife. An up-close view of what the surgeon sees and does as he operates on human bodies. The details are direct, not disgusting. But no forgetting the power of the surgeon over human life. You need to read some sample passages.

Quote: “One holds the knife as ne holds the bow of a cello or a tulip-by the stem. Not palmed nor gripped nor grasped, but lightly, with the tips of the fingers. The knife is not for pressing. It is for drawing across the field of skin. Like a slender fish, it waits, at the ready, then go! It darts, followed by a fine wake of red. The flesh parts, falling away to yellow globules of fat. Even now, after so many times, I still marvel at its power—cold, gleaming, silent. More, I am still struck with a kind of dread that it is I in whose hand the blade travels., that my hand is its vehicle, that yet again this terrible steel-bellied thing and I have conspired for a most unnatural purpose, the laying open of the body of a human being.”

Quote: “But mostly you are a traveler in a dangerous country, advancing into the moist and jungly cleft your hands have made.”

Quote: “I have stood aside with lowered gaze while a priest, wearing the purple scarf of office, administers the Last Rites to the man I shall operate upon. I try not to listen to those terrible last questions, the answers, but hear with scorching clarity, that formalize the expectations of death. For a moment my resolve falters before the resignation, the attentiveness, of the other two. I am like an executioner who hears the cleric comforting the prisoner. For the moment, I am excluded from the centrality of the event, a mere technician standing by. But it is only for a moment.”

Comment: Whew! RayS.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books. 1995.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Essay: "Seeing." Annie Dillard.


Review: A poet’s-eye view of the topic. It’s a meditation on the experience of seeing. Of course, we don’t often see. We try to see, but we don’t. But people who can’t see because of cataracts, for example, who haven’t seen for a lifetime with cataracts, born with them, when eye surgeons learned that the cataracts could be removed, those people who see for the first time and are amazed by what they see. In a way, this essay is about those who couldn’t see and then could, and her own spiritual attempts at seeing, a subjective experience. It’s also about her impressions of light.

Quote: “Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair. A fish flashes, then dissolves in the water before my eyes….”

Quote: “On the other hand, many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision.”

Quote: “It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open.”

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books. 1995.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Essay: "In Bed." Joan Didion


The experience of suffering migraine headaches.

Quote: “Three, four, sometimes five times a month, I spend the day in bed with migraine headaches, insensible to the world around me.”

Quote: “I was a long time before I began thinking mechanistically enough to accept migraine for what it was: something with which I would be living, the way some people live with diabetes.”

Quote: “Once an attack is under way, however, no drug touches it. Migraine gives some people mild hallucinations, temporarily blinds others, shows up not only as a headache but…a painful sensitivity to all sensory stimuli, an abrupt overpowering fatigue…and a crippling inability to make even the most routine connections.”

Quote: “…perhaps nothing so tends to prolong an attack as the accusing eye of someone who has never had a headache.”

Quote: “We do not escape heredity.”

Quote: “And I have learned now to live with it, learned when to expect it, how to outwit it, even how to regard it, when it does come, as more friend than lodger. We have reached a certain understanding, my migraine and I.”

Quote: “It comes instead when I  am not fighting an open guerrilla war with my own life, during weeks of small household confusions, lost laundry…canceled appointments, on days when the telephone rings too much and I get no work done and the wind is coming up. On days like that my friend [the migraine] comes uninvited.”

Quote: “For when the pain recedes, ten or twelve hours later, everything goes with it, all the hidden resentments, all the vain anxieties, The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a ;pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gleefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Essay: "Goodbye to All That." Joan Didion.



At age twenty or twenty-one the author arrived in New York City, struck by the wonder of it all and especially by its promises. In eight years she could no longer meet “new faces” at parties. She was finished with New York. Its magic was gone.

Quote: “The end of innocence—disenchantment—is a frequent Didion motif….” Editor’s Note.

Quote: “…some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever heard sung and all the stories I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again.”

Quote: “ ‘…but where is the school girl who used to be me?’…. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later….”

Quote: “Some years passed but I still did not lose that sense of wonder about New York. I began to cherish the loneliness of it, the sense that at any given time no one need know where I was or what I was doing.”

Quote: “…it was a very long time indeed before I stopped believing in new faces and began to understand…that it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair.”

Quote: “Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen.”

Quote: “I hurt the people I cared about, and insulted those I did not.”

Quote: “All I mean is that I was very young in New York, and that at some point that golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young any more.”

Comment: And so she flew off to LA,, the other phony capital, and she and her husband gave up their apartment in New York. RayS.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Essay: "An Entrance to the Woods." Wendell Berry (2)



Review: Ever long for solitude? This essay about a walk in the woods is as close you can get if you can never find the time to achieve solitude. You’re transported into the heart of the woods. And you’re thinking about things. Slowly you grow away from the modern world—in spirit. And you wake up the next day, refreshed and ready to return to the modern world, ready to step on the treadmill again. But you also know you will come to the woods again.

Quote: “Southward, I can hear the traffic on the Mountain Parkway, a steady, continuous roar—the corporate voice of twentieth-century humanity, sustained above the transient voices of its members. Last night, except for an occasional airplane passing over, I camped out of reach of the sounds of engines. For long stretches of time I heard no sounds but the sounds of the woods.”

Quote: “From where I am sitting in the midst of this island of wilderness, it is as though I am listening to the machine of human history—a huge flywheel building speed until finally the force of its whirling will break it in pieces and the world with it.”

Quote: “Today, as always when I am afoot in the woods, I feel the possibility, the reasonableness, the practicability of living in the world in a way that would enlarge rather than diminish the hope of life.”

Quote: “Walking through the woods, you can never see far, either ahead or behind, so you move without much of a sense of getting anywhere or of moving at any certain speed.”

Quote: “All day I have moved through the woods, making as little noise as possible. Slowly, my mind and my nerves have slowed to a walk”

Quote: “…and I go on with the sense that I am passing near to the sleep of things.”

Quote: “What I am leaving is something to look forward to.”

Concluded.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Essay: "An Entrance to the Woods." Wendell Berry (1)



Review: Ever long for solitude? This essay about a walk in the woods is as close you can get if you can never find the time to achieve solitude. You’re transported into the heart of the woods. And you’re thinking about things. Slowly you grow away from the modern world—in spirit. And you wake up the next day, refreshed and ready to return to the modern world, ready to step on the treadmill again. But you also know you will come to the woods again.

Quote: “These are haunted places, or at least it is easy to feel haunted in them, alone at nightfall.”

Quote: “That sense of the past is probably one reason for the melancholy that I feel.”

Quote: “…though I am here in body, my mind and my nerves too are not yet altogether here.”

Quote: “Nobody knows where I am. I don’t know what is happening to anybody else in the world. While I am here I will not speak, and will have no reason or need for speech.”

Quote: “Wilderness is the element in which we live encased in civilization, as a mollusk lives in his shell in the sea.”

Quote: “And so, coming here, what I have done is strip away the human fa├žade that usually stands between me and the universe, and I see more clearly where I am.”

Quote: “And so I have come here to enact—not because I want to but because once here, I cannot help it—the loneliness and the humbleness of my kind.”

To be continued.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Essay: "The Threshold and the Jolt of Pain." Edward Hoagland.



Review: This was one of those essays in which the essayist gives details about his life and personal experiences that are more personal than any reader would want to know. I mean really embarrassingly personal details. Along the way he describes the pain of being a stutterer, his scandalous relationship with women, the pain of childbirth in women and just about any kind of pain allotted to human beings. These descriptions of pain depress.

He does have one interesting comment at the end about the pain of dying: “It’s when we have no imperative purpose in front of our sufferings that we think about ‘bearing up’; ‘bearing up’ is converted to serve as a purpose…. Since we must like it or lump it, we like it.”

Rating for this essay: * out of *****.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Note: Both of the previous essays by Edward Hoagland were “downers.” I will not summarize another essay like them. I consider literature and art, in general, to be uplifting, in spite of the tragedies of the world. Save depression  for the daily local newscasts. I expect art to make me want to live. I don’t need to be depressed by what I read. I know many of my readers will disagree with me, but even the essays by James Baldwin give one a sense of hope. The ancient Greeks and Shakespeare could deal that way with tragedy and that’s what I am looking for in the essays I review. RayS.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Essay: "The Courage of Turtles." Edward Hoagland.



Review: Up front and personal with turtles of all kinds and one story of that author’s relationship with a diamondback turtle who did not like living in his apartment. So he took the turtle to the Hudson River, but it turned out to be the wrong place for a diamondback turtle. One thing you learn from the author is that animals have personalities and express emotion. The diamondback turtle in the Hudson showed fear of his new surroundings. Although author realized he had made a mistake in putting it there, there was nothing he could do about it and walked away.

Rating for this essay: ** out of *****.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Essay: "Split at the Root." Adrienne Rich (2)


Review: A Jewish-American woman living in a Christian world, the author looks back on a life defined by her Jewish identity. The struggle to define who she is begins with her Jewish identity. She is, however, “split at the root.” She has many stages in her life to date that grow, one way or another, out of her Jewish identity.

[Every essay has an unforgettable quote that strikes me as significant. The following is that quote for this essay. RayS.]
Quote: “Some time in 1946, while still in high school, I read in the newspaper that a theater in Baltimore was showing films of the Allied liberation of the Nazi concentration camps…. But it came to me that every one of those piles of corpses, mountains of shoes and clothing, had contained, simply, individuals, who had believed, as I now believed of myself, that they were meant to live out a life of some kind of meaning, that the world possessed some kind of sense and order; yet this had happened to them.”

Quote: “We—my sister, mother, and I—were constantly urged to speak quietly in public, to dress without ostentation, to repress all vividness or spontaneity, to assimilate with a world which might see us as too flamboyant.”

Quote: “…but in which I had been ceaselessly made to feel that what I did with my life, the choices I made, the attitudes I held, were of the utmost consequence.”

Quote: “Sometimes I feel I have seen too long from too many disconnected angles: white, Jewish, anti-Semite, racist, anti-racist, once married, lesbian, middle class, feminist, exmatriate Southerner, split at the root, that I will never bring them whole.”

Concluded.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Essay: "Split at the Root." Adrienne Rich (1)



Review: A Jewish-American woman living in a Christian world, the author looks back on a life defined by her Jewish identity. The struggle to define who she is begins with her Jewish identity. She is, however, “split at the root.” She has many stages in her life to date that grow, one way or another, out of her Jewish identity.

Quote: “I have to face the sources and the flickering presence of my own ambivalence as a Jew; the daily, mundane anti-Semitism of my entire life.”

Quote: “Why now? Why, I asked myself sometime last year, does this question of Jewish identity float so impalpably, so ungraspably, around me, a cloud I can’t quite see the outlines of, which feels to me without definition?”

Quote: “In a long poem written in 1960, when I was thirty-one years old, I described myself as ‘split at the root, neither gentile nor Jew, Yankee nor Rebel.’ ”

Quote: “My mother is a gentile. In Jewish law I cannot count myself a Jew.”

Quote: “The social world in which I grew up was Christian virtually without needing to say so: Christian imagery, music, language, symbols, assumptions everywhere.”

Quote: “But it was white social Christianity, rather than any particular Christian sect, that the world was founded on. The very word ‘Christian’ was used as a synonym for virtuous, just, peace loving, generous, etc., etc.”

To be continued.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Essay: Some Memories of the Glorious Bird." Gore Vidal.



Review: “Bird” is Vidal’s nickname for Tennessee Williams.

Comments: I have been reading the Paris Review Interviews because I am interested in the experiences of writers and their writing. Unfortunately, the interviews go into their experiences in living with more personal details than I want to read, from sex to idiosyncrasies. That’s what this essay reminds me of. Gore Vidal comments about Tennessee Williams’ published memoirs, most of which are about his homosexuality and idiosyncrasies—and Vidal’s memories, too. A big bore. But a few interesting quotes.

Quote: “Today, at sixty-four, Tennessee has the same voracious appetite for work and for applause that he had at twenty-four.”

Quote: “…the plays do speak for themselves and Tennessee’s mind is not, to say the least, at home with theory.”

Quote: “Tennessee now writes, ‘I am unable to believe that there is anything but permanent oblivion after death….’ ”

Quote: “In any case, artists who continue to find exhilarating the puzzles art proposes never grow bored and so have no need of death.”

Quote: “As for life? Well, that is a hard matter. But it was always a hard matter for those of us born with a sense of the transiency of these borrowed atoms that make up our corporeal being.”

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Essay: "Alas, Poor Richard." James Baldwin.



Review: A memoir of Richard Wright who had recently died at age 54 in Paris. But it is only superficially a memoir of Richard Wright. It is really an exploration of the meaning of black experience. There are many memorable lines in this essay but, once again, as in “Notes of a Native Son,” Baldwin’s conclusion seems to sum up the issue:

“This is why, it seems to me, he [Richard Wright] found himself wandering in a no-man’s land between the black world and the white. It is no longer important to be white—thank heaven—the white face is no longer invested with the power of this world; and it is devoutly to be hoped that it will no longer be important to be black. The experience of the American Negro, if it is ever faced and assessed, makes it possible to hope for such a reconciliation. The hope and the effect of this fusion in the breast of the American Negro is one of the few hopes we have of surviving the wilderness which lies before us now.”

Quote: “…a real writer is always shifting and changing and searching. The world has many labels for him, of which the most treacherous is the label of success. But the man behind the label knows defeat far more intimately than he knows triumph. He can never be absolutely certain that he has achieved his intention.”

Quote: “The story, without seeming to, goes very deeply into the demoralization of the Negro male and the resulting fragmentation of the Negro family which occurs when the female is forced to play the male role of breadwinner.”

Quote: “This might not have been so serious if I had been older when we met…if I had been, that is, less uncertain of myself, and less monstrously egotistical.”

Quote: “…as so often happens, my first real triumph turned out to be the herald of my first real defeat.”

Quote: “There is very little point, I think, in regretting anything.”

Quote: Richard Wright: “All literature is ;protest. You can’t name a single novel that isn’t protest.”

Quote: “Part of the trouble between Richard and myself, after all, was that I was nearly twenty hears younger and had never seen the South.”

Quote: “…Richard was able, at last, to live in Paris exactly as he would have lived, had he been a white man, here in America.”

Quote: “When I say simply a black man, I do not mean that being a black man is simple, anywhere. But I am suggesting that one of the prices an American Negro pays—or can pay—for what is called his ‘acceptance’ is a profound, almost ineradicable serf-hatred. This corrupts every aspect of his living, he is never at peace again, he is out of touch with himself forever.”

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Essaay: "Notes of a Native Son." James Baldwin.



Review: One of the essential ideas in this essay occurs in the last paragraph. “It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally, without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This information made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future could give me now.”

Editor’s Note: “in Baldwin’s hands…the essay lost its stigma of benign, belletristic coziness and became a matter of life and death.” Phillip Lopate.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Essay: "From My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business" Seymour Krim (3)



Review: Ever hear of Seymour Krim? I never had either. Rarely do I read every word of the essays that I review. I read every word of this one.

Summary: Americans dream the American dream and, for many of us, it ends with failure. That is the sum and substance of this essay.

Quote: “I was living in Europe at the time, where the attitude towards personal success and failure is much less of a real distinction than over here because of the evenhanded wounds of recent history.”

Quote: “And as for myself, I am lucky I guess in that I can write about this very phenomenon that I live while others who experience it just as toughly, maybe even more so, are without the words to tell you what they had gone through.”

Quotes: “But you cannot separate us from the deepest promise of the country as it was lived …and perhaps the ultimate failure of the country. This last is not an easy thing to say, even in a time in which America-baiting is the rage.”

Quote: “Like most of us in the failure business, I am, we are, patriots so outrageously old-fashioned that we incorporate the spirit of the country in our very heads, took literally its every invitation to the greatest kind of self-fulfillment ever known. There’s something beautiful about being an American sucker, even if you pay for it with tears and worse.”

Quote: “We were millionaires of the spirit for at least 20 adult years before we felt the lowering of the boom, and in the last analysis it is the spirit, the attitude within, a quality of soul, that this country has to offer to history much more than its tangible steel and the bright blood too often accompanying it….”

The end.

Comment: The ultimate statement on the failure of the American dream. The American dream as the essayist defines it is the belief that you can accomplish anything you set out to do in life. The truth is, most of us can’t. But that is the legacy of the American spirit that will be passed on to history. RayS.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Essay: "From My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business" Seymour Krim (2)



Review: Ever hear of Seymour Krim? I never had either. Rarely do I read every word of the essays that I review. I read every word of this one.

Americans dream the American dream and, for many of us, it ends with failure. That is the sum and substance of this essay.

Quote: “Our secret is that we still have an epic longing to be more than what we are, to multiply ourselves, to integrate all the identities and action-fantasies we have experienced, above all, to keep experimenting with our lives all the way to forest Lawn to see how much we can make real out of the prolific American dream machine within.”

Quote: “What it comes down to is that the America of the pioneer has b en made subjective by us. The endless rolling back of the frontier goes on within our heads all the time. We are updated Daniel Boones of American inner-space. Each of our lives, for those of us in this country-wide fraternity, seems to us a novel or a play or a movie in itself, draining our energy but then at other moments lifting us up to spectacular highs, yet always moving. The big wagon-trains of great new possibilities always crushing on. The fact that all of this is private doesn’t make it any less real.”

Quote: “I know for a fact that I wanted to become a novelist in my teens just so that I could be all these different personalities and events that it was physically impossible for me to be any other way.”

Quote: “That is what this democracy was for us, a huge supermarket of mass man where we could take a piece here and a piece there to make our personalities for ourselves instead of putting up with what was given at the beginning.”

Quote: “Yet each one of us sooner or later gets the elbow that reminds us that the ‘real world’ we have postponed making a deal with…has been evaluating us with a different set of standards than the ones we have been applying to ourselves.”

To be continued.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Essay: "From My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business." Seymour Krim (1).



Review: Ever hear of Seymour Krim? I never had either. Rarely do I read every word of the essays that I review. I read every word of this one.

Americans dream, the American dream and, for many of us, it ends with failure. That is the sum and substance of this essay.

Quote: “We are all victims of the imagination in this country. The American dream may sometimes seem like a dirty joke these days, but it was internalized long ago by our fevered little minds and it remains to haunt us as we fumble with the unglamorous pennies of life during the illusionless middle years.”

Quote: “One life was never quite enough for what I had in mind.”

Quote: “Consider…a boy at the turn of the 30’s growing up in this land without parents, discipline, any religion to speak of, yet with a famished need that almost unconsciously filled the vacuum where the solid family heart should be….”

Quote: “But my point is this: what a great fitting-room for experimentation, a huge sci-fi lab for making the self you wanted; America was for those of us who needed models, forms, shapes we could throw ourselves into.”

Quote: “Yet those of us who have never really nailed it down, who have charged through life from enthusiasm to enthusiasm, from new project to new project, even from personality-revolution to personality revolution….”

Quote: “Sadly enough, it is the kind that people…often take to psychiatrists, hoping to simplify their experience because they can’t cope with the murderous tangle of it.”

To be continued.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Essay: "My Confession." Mary McCarthy.



Review: Describes the period in America when people were attracted to Communism and then began to disconnect themselves from it. Almost every incident involving her relationship to Communism is a tangled web of circumstances implicating her, almost without her knowing it.

The anecdote about why Trotsky did not attend Lenin’s funeral sums up her feelings about her involvement with Communism. Trotsky had an accident while on a trip shooting wild ducks in the autumn. Trotsky: “One can foresee the consequences of a revolution or a war, but it is impossible to foresee the consequences of an autumn shooting trip for wild ducks.” Her relationship with Communism was purely an accident.

She was an observer, not a believer. She know almost nothing about the party squabbles that the serious, humorless party True Believers cared so much about, but if she expressed an opinion, then her name appeared on the masthead of documents about Communist intra-party “causes.” Gives one the impression that the Communist party in America was a political maelstrom.

Quote: “Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted.”

Quote: “Two shuddering climaxes, two rendezvous with destiny, form the poles between which these narratives vibrate: the first describes the occasion when the subject was seduced by Communism; the second shows his wrestling himself from the demon embrace.”

Quote: “My real interests were literary.”

Quote: “Most ex-Communists nowadays, when they write their autobiographies or testify before Congressional committees, are at pains to point out that their actions were very, very bad and their motives very, very good.”

Quote: “People sometimes say that they envied the Communists because they were so ‘sure.’ ”

Quote: “In any case, my soul was not particularly hot for certainties.”

Quote: “Anybody who has ever tried to rectify an injustice or set a record straight comes to feel that he is going mad.”

Quote: “Trotsky himself, looking at his life in retrospect, was struck, as most of us are on such occasions, by the role chance has played in it.”

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Essay: "Once a Tramp, Always...." MFK Fisher.


Essay: “Once a Tramp, Always . . . .”MFK Fisher

Review: A delightful essay written in a memorable style, about food by someone who loves and writes about food for a living. She goes through a long list of foods she loved as a child, and, as she writes, the reader can almost taste them. But she saves the best for last as she remembers a list that Mark Twain gives in his A Tramp Abroad, of foods he misses from home in America while in Europe, and among that list is mashed potatoes with catsup. Here’s the author’s take on her memory of having a bowl of mashed potatoes with catsup.

Quote: “The potatoes were light, whipped to a cloud with rich hot milk, faintly yellow from ample butter. I put them in a big warmed bowl, made a dent about the size of a respectable coffee cup, and filled it to the brim with catsup from a large, full, vulgar bottle that stood beside my table mat where a wine glass would be at an ordinary, commonplace, everyday banquet.”

Early in the essay, she gives her blessing on food as a way to fight despair: “One has to live, you know. You can’t just die from grief or anything. You don’t die. You might as well eat well, have a good glass of wine, a good tomato.”

Comment: Some time or other, I knew someone who liked mashed potatoes and ketchup. I’m tempted to try a dish myself. RayS.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. Phillip Lopate. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.