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Nonfiction Books » Essays

The best essays: the 2021 pen/diamonstein-spielvogel award, recommended by adam gopnik.

Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich

WINNER OF the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich

Every year, the judges of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay search out the best book of essays written in the past year and draw attention to the author's entire body of work. Here, Adam Gopnik , writer, journalist and PEN essay prize judge, emphasizes the role of the essay in bearing witness and explains why the five collections that reached the 2021 shortlist are, in their different ways, so important.

Interview by Benedict King

Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich

Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick

The Best Essays: the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award - Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays by Robert Michael Pyle

Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays by Robert Michael Pyle

The Best Essays: the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award - Terroir: Love, Out of Place by Natasha Sajé

Terroir: Love, Out of Place by Natasha Sajé

The Best Essays: the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award - Maybe the People Would be the Times by Luc Sante

Maybe the People Would be the Times by Luc Sante

The Best Essays: the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award - Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich

1 Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich

2 unfinished business: notes of a chronic re-reader by vivian gornick, 3 nature matrix: new and selected essays by robert michael pyle, 4 terroir: love, out of place by natasha sajé, 5 maybe the people would be the times by luc sante.

W e’re talking about the books shortlisted for the 2021 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay . As an essayist yourself, or as a reader of essays, what are you looking for? What’s the key to a good essay ?

Let’s turn to the books that made the shortlist of the 2021 PEN Award for the Art of the Essay. The winning book was Had I Known: Collected Essays by Barbara Ehrenreich , whose books have been recommended a number of times on Five Books. Tell me more. 

One of the criteria for this particular prize is that it should be not just for a single book, but for a body of work. One of the things we wanted to honour about Barbara Ehrenreich is that she has produced a remarkable body of work. Although it’s offered in a more specifically political register than some essayists, or that a great many past prize winners have practised, the quiddity of her work is that it remains rooted in personal experience, in the act of bearing witness. She has a passionate political point to make, certainly, a series of them, many seeming all the more relevant now than when she began writing. Nonetheless, her writing still always depends on the intimacy of first-hand knowledge, what people in post-incarceration work call ‘lived experience’ (a term with a distinguished philosophical history). Her book Nickel and Dimed is the classic example of that. She never writes from a distance about working-class life in America. She bears witness to the nature and real texture of working-class life in America.

“One point of giving awards…is to keep passing the small torches of literary tradition”

Next up of the books on the 2021 PEN essay prize shortlist is Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader by Vivian Gornick.

Vivian Gornick is a writer who’s been around for a very long time. Although longevity is not in itself a criterion for excellence—or for this prize, or in the writing life generally—persistence and perseverance are. Writers who keep coming back at us, again and again, with a consistent vision, are surely to be saluted. For her admirers, her appetite to re-read things already read is one of the most attractive parts of her oeuvre , if I can call it that; her appetite not just to read but to read deeply and personally. One of the things that people who love her work love about it is that her readings are never academic, or touched by scholarly hobbyhorsing. They’re readings that involve the fullness of her experience, then applied to literature. Although she reads as a critic, she reads as an essayist reads, rather than as a reviewer reads. And I think that was one of the things that was there to honour in her body of work, as well.

Is she a novelist or journalist, as well?

Let’s move on to the next book which made the 2021 PEN essay shortlist. This is Nature Matrix: New and Selected Essays by Robert Michael Pyle.

I have a special reason for liking this book in particular, and that is that it corresponds to one of the richest and oldest of American genres, now often overlooked, and that’s the naturalist essay. You can track it back to Henry David Thoreau , if not to Ralph Waldo Emerson , this American engagement with nature , the wilderness, not from a narrowly scientific point of view, nor from a purely ecological or environmental point of view—though those things are part of it—but again, from the point of view of lived experience, of personal testimony.

Let’s look at the next book on the shortlist of the 2021 PEN Awards, which is Terroir: Love, Out of Place by Natasha Sajé. Why did these essays appeal?

One of the things that was appealing about this book is that’s it very much about, in every sense, the issues of the day: the idea of place, of where we are, how we are located on any map as individuals by ethnic identity, class, gender—all of those things. But rather than being carried forward in a narrowly argumentative way, again, in the classic manner of the essay, Sajé’s work is ruminative. It walks around these issues from the point of view of someone who’s an expatriate, someone who’s an émigré, someone who’s a world citizen, but who’s also concerned with the idea of ‘terroir’, the one place in the world where we belong. And I think the dialogue in her work between a kind of cosmopolitanism that she has along with her self-critical examination of the problem of localism and where we sit on the world, was inspiring to us.

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Last of the books on the shortlist for the 2021 Pen essay award is Maybe the People Would Be the Times by Luc Sante.

Again, here’s a writer who’s had a distinguished generalised career, writing about lots of places and about lots of subjects. In the past, he’s made his special preoccupation what he calls ‘low life’, but I think more broadly can be called the marginalized or the repressed and abject. He’s also written acute introductions to the literature of ‘low life’, the works of Asbury and David Maurer, for instance.

But I think one of the things that was appealing about what he’s done is the sheer range of his enterprise. He writes about countless subjects. He can write about A-sides and B-sides of popular records—singles—then go on to write about Jacques Rivette’s cinema. He writes from a kind of private inspection of public experience. He has a lovely piece about tabloid headlines and their evolution. And I think that omnivorous range of enthusiasms and passions is a stirring reminder in a time of specialization and compartmentalization of the essayist’s freedom to roam. If Pyle is in the tradition of Thoreau, I suspect Luc Sante would be proud to be put in the tradition of Baudelaire—the flaneur who walks the streets, sees everything, broods on it all and writes about it well.

One point of giving awards, with all their built-in absurdity and inevitable injustice, is to keep alive, or at least to keep passing, the small torches of literary tradition. And just as much as we’re honoring the great tradition of the naturalist essay in the one case, I think we’re honoring the tradition of the Baudelairean flaneur in this one.

April 18, 2021

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Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 1986. His many books include A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism . He is a three time winner of the National Magazine Award for Essays & Criticism, and in 2021 was made a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur by the French Republic.

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best essay book in english

The 25 Greatest Essay Collections of All Time

Today marks the release of Aleksandar Hemon’s excellent book of personal essays, The Book of My Lives , which we loved, and which we’re convinced deserves a place in the literary canon. To that end, we were inspired to put together our list of the greatest essay collections of all time, from the classic to the contemporary, from the personal to the critical. In making our choices, we’ve steered away from posthumous omnibuses (Michel de Montaigne’s Complete Essays , the collected Orwell, etc.) and multi-author compilations, and given what might be undue weight to our favorite writers (as one does). After the jump, our picks for the 25 greatest essay collections of all time. Feel free to disagree with us, praise our intellect, or create an entirely new list in the comments.

best essay book in english

The Book of My Lives , Aleksandar Hemon

Hemon’s memoir in essays is in turns wryly hilarious, intellectually searching, and deeply troubling. It’s the life story of a fascinating, quietly brilliant man, and it reads as such. For fans of chess and ill-advised theme parties and growing up more than once.

best essay book in english

Slouching Towards Bethlehem , Joan Didion

Well, obviously. Didion’s extraordinary book of essays, expertly surveying both her native California in the 1960s and her own internal landscape with clear eyes and one eyebrow raised ever so slightly. This collection, her first, helped establish the idea of journalism as art, and continues to put wind in the sails of many writers after her, hoping to move in that Didion direction.

best essay book in english

Pulphead , John Jeremiah Sullivan

This was one of those books that this writer deemed required reading for all immediate family and friends. Sullivan’s sharply observed essays take us from Christian rock festivals to underground caves to his own home, and introduce us to 19-century geniuses, imagined professors and Axl Rose. Smart, curious, and humane, this is everything an essay collection should be.

best essay book in english

The Boys of My Youth , Jo Ann Beard

Another memoir-in-essays, or perhaps just a collection of personal narratives, Jo Ann Beard’s award-winning volume is a masterpiece. Not only does it include the luminous, emotionally destructive “The Fourth State of the Matter,” which we’ve already implored you to read , but also the incredible “Bulldozing the Baby,” which takes on a smaller tragedy: a three-year-old Beard’s separation from her doll Hal. “The gorgeous thing about Hal,” she tells us, “was that not only was he my friend, he was also my slave. I made the majority of our decisions, including the bathtub one, which in retrospect was the beginning of the end.”

best essay book in english

Consider the Lobster , David Foster Wallace

This one’s another “duh” moment, at least if you’re a fan of the literary essay. One of the most brilliant essayists of all time, Wallace pushes the boundaries (of the form, of our patience, of his own brain) and comes back with a classic collection of writing on everything from John Updike to, well, lobsters. You’ll laugh out loud right before you rethink your whole life. And then repeat.

best essay book in english

Notes of a Native Son , James Baldwin

Baldwin’s most influential work is a witty, passionate portrait of black life and social change in America in the 1940s and early 1950s. His essays, like so many of the greats’, are both incisive social critiques and rigorous investigations into the self, told with a perfect tension between humor and righteous fury.

best essay book in english

Naked , David Sedaris

His essays often read more like short stories than they do social criticism (though there’s a healthy, if perhaps implied, dose of that slippery subject), but no one makes us laugh harder or longer. A genius of the form.

best essay book in english

Against Interpretation , Susan Sontag

This collection, Sontag’s first, is a dazzling feat of intellectualism. Her essays dissect not only art but the way we think about art, imploring us to “reveal the sensuous surface of art without mucking about in it.” It also contains the brilliant “Notes on ‘Camp,'” one of our all-time favorites.

best essay book in english

The Common Reader , Virginia Woolf

Woolf is a literary giant for a reason — she was as incisive and brilliant a critic as she was a novelist. These witty essays, written for the common reader (“He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole- a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing”), are as illuminating and engrossing as they were when they were written.

best essay book in english

Teaching a Stone to Talk , Annie Dillard

This is Dillard’s only book of essays, but boy is it a blazingly good one. The slender volume, filled with examinations of nature both human and not, is deft of thought and tongue, and well worth anyone’s time. As the Chicago Sun-Times ‘s Edward Abbey gushed, “This little book is haloed and informed throughout by Dillard’s distinctive passion and intensity, a sort of intellectual radiance that reminds me both Thoreau and Emily Dickinson.”

best essay book in english

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man , Henry Louis Gates Jr.

In this eloquent volume of essays, all but one of which were originally published in the New Yorker , Gates argues against the notion of the singularly representable “black man,” preferring to represent him in a myriad of diverse profiles, from James Baldwin to Colin Powell. Humane, incisive, and satisfyingly journalistic, Gates cobbles together the ultimate portrait of the 20th-century African-American male by refusing to cobble it together, and raises important questions about race and identity even as he entertains.

best essay book in english

Otherwise Known As the Human Condition , Geoff Dyer

This book of essays, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year of its publication, covers 25 years of the uncategorizable, inimitable Geoff Dyer’s work — casually erudite and yet liable to fascinate anyone wandering in the door, witty and breathing and full of truth. As Sam Lipsyte said, “You read Dyer for his caustic wit, of course, his exquisite and perceptive crankiness, and his deep and exciting intellectual connections, but from these enthralling rants and cultural investigations there finally emerges another Dyer, a generous seeker of human feeling and experience, a man perhaps closer than he thinks to what he believes his hero Camus achieved: ‘a heart free of bitterness.'”

best essay book in english

Art and Ardor , Cynthia Ozick

Look, Cynthia Ozick is a genius. One of David Foster Wallace’s favorite writers, and one of ours, Ozick has no less than seven essay collections to her name, and we could have chosen any one of them, each sharper and more perfectly self-conscious than the last. This one, however, includes her stunner “A Drugstore in Winter,” which was chosen by Joyce Carol Oates for The Best American Essays of the Century , so we’ll go with it.

best essay book in english

No More Nice Girls , Ellen Willis

The venerable Ellen Willis was the first pop music critic for The New Yorker , and a rollicking anti-authoritarian, feminist, all-around bad-ass woman who had a hell of a way with words. This collection examines the women’s movement, the plight of the aging radical, race relations, cultural politics, drugs, and Picasso. Among other things.

best essay book in english

The War Against Cliché , Martin Amis

As you know if you’ve ever heard him talk , Martin Amis is not only a notorious grouch but a sharp critical mind, particularly when it comes to literature. That quality is on full display in this collection, which spans nearly 30 years and twice as many subjects, from Vladimir Nabokov (his hero) to chess to writing about sex. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that he’s a brilliant old grump.

best essay book in english

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts , Clive James

James’s collection is a strange beast, not like any other essay collection on this list but its own breed. An encyclopedia of modern culture, the book collects 110 new biographical essays, which provide more than enough room for James to flex his formidable intellect and curiosity, as he wanders off on tangents, anecdotes, and cultural criticism. It’s not the only who’s who you need, but it’s a who’s who you need.

best essay book in english

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman , Nora Ephron

Oh Nora, we miss you. Again, we could have picked any of her collections here — candid, hilarious, and willing to give it to you straight, she’s like a best friend and mentor in one, only much more interesting than any of either you’ve ever had.

best essay book in english

Arguably , Christopher Hitchens

No matter what you think of his politics (or his rhetorical strategies), there’s no denying that Christopher Hitchens was one of the most brilliant minds — and one of the most brilliant debaters — of the century. In this collection, packed with cultural commentary, literary journalism, and political writing, he is at his liveliest, his funniest, his exactingly wittiest. He’s also just as caustic as ever.

best essay book in english

The Solace of Open Spaces , Gretel Ehrlich

Gretel Ehrlich is a poet, and in this collection, you’ll know it. In 1976, she moved to Wyoming and became a cowherd, and nearly a decade later, she published this lovely, funny set of essays about rural life in the American West.”Keenly observed the world is transformed,” she writes. “The landscape is engorged with detail, every movement on it chillingly sharp. The air between people is charged. Days unfold, bathed in their own music. Nights become hallucinatory; dreams, prescient.”

best essay book in english

The Braindead Megaphone , George Saunders

Saunders may be the man of the moment, but he’s been at work for a long while, and not only on his celebrated short stories. His single collection of essays applies the same humor and deliciously slant view to the real world — which manages to display nearly as much absurdity as one of his trademark stories.

best essay book in english

Against Joie de Vivre , Phillip Lopate

“Over the years,” the title essay begins, “I have developed a distaste for the spectacle of joie de vivre , the knack of knowing how to live.” Lopate goes on to dissect, in pleasantly sardonic terms, the modern dinner party. Smart and thought-provoking throughout (and not as crotchety as all that), this collection is conversational but weighty, something to be discussed at length with friends at your next — oh well, you know.

best essay book in english

Sex and the River Styx , Edward Hoagland

Edward Hoagland, who John Updike deemed “the best essayist of my generation,” has a long and storied career and a fat bibliography, so we hesitate to choose such a recent installment in the writer’s canon. Then again, Garrison Keillor thinks it’s his best yet , so perhaps we’re not far off. Hoagland is a great nature writer (name checked by many as the modern Thoreau) but in truth, he’s just as fascinated by humanity, musing that “human nature is interstitial with nature, and not to be shunned by a naturalist.” Elegant and thoughtful, Hoagland may warn us that he’s heading towards the River Styx, but we’ll hang on to him a while longer.

best essay book in english

Changing My Mind , Zadie Smith

Smith may be best known for her novels (and she should be), but to our eyes she is also emerging as an excellent essayist in her own right, passionate and thoughtful. Plus, any essay collection that talks about Barack Obama via Pygmalion is a winner in our book.

best essay book in english

My Misspent Youth , Meghan Daum

Like so many other writers on this list, Daum dives head first into the culture and comes up with meat in her mouth. Her voice is fresh and her narratives daring, honest and endlessly entertaining.

best essay book in english

The White Album , Joan Didion

Yes, Joan Didion is on this list twice, because Joan Didion is the master of the modern essay, tearing at our assumptions and building our world in brisk, clever strokes. Deal.

  • Search Results

The best essay collections to read now

From advice on friendship and understanding modern life to getting a grasp on coronavirus, these books offer insight on life. 

The best essay collections including Zadie Smith's Intimations, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son and Nora Ephron's The Most of Nora Ephron.

What better way to get into the work of a writer than through a collection of their essays? 

These seven collections, from novelists and critics alike, address a myriad of subjects from friendship to how colleges are dealing with sexual assaults on campus to race and racism. 

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (2019)

As a staff writer at The New Yorker , Jia Tolentino has explored everything from a rise in youth vaping to the ongoing cultural reckoning about sexual assault. Her first book Trick Mirror takes some of those pieces for The New Yorker as well as new work to form what is one of the sharpest collections of cultural criticism today.

Using herself and her own coming of age as a lens for many of the essays, Tolentino turns her pen and her eye to everything from her generation’s obsession with extravagant weddings to how college campuses deal with sexual assault.

If you’re looking for an insight into millennial life, then Trick Mirror should be on your to-read list.

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker (1983)

Sometimes essays collected from a sprawling period of a successful writer’s life can feel like a hasty addition to a bibliography; a smash-and-grab of notebook flotsam. Not so In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens , from which one can truly understand the sheer range of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s range of study and activism. From Walker’s first published piece of non-fiction (for which she won a prize, and spent her winnings on cut peonies) to more elegiac pieces about her heritage, Walker’s thoughts on feminism (which she terms “womanism”) and the Civil Rights Movement remain grippingly pertinent 50 years on.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (2000)

That David Sedaris’s ascent to literary stardom happened later in his life – his breakthrough collection of humour essays was released when he was 44 – suited the author’s writing style perfectly. Me Talk Pretty One Day is both a painfully funny account of his childhood and an enduring snapshot of mid-forties malaise. First story ‘Go Carolina’, about his attempt to transcend a childhood lisp, is told from a perfect distance and with all the worldliness necessary to milk every drop of tragic, cringeworthy humour from his childhood. It never falters from there: by the book’s second half, in which Sedaris is living in France, he’s firmly established his niche, writing about the ways that even snobs experience utter humiliation ­– and Me Talk Pretty One Day is all the more human for it. 

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The Best Essay Collections to Add to Your TBR List

Discover big ideas in small doses.

some of the best essay collections

Anyone who has read very much of it knows that some of the best prose around is happening in nonfiction. From personal essays to political ones, cultural criticism to travelogues, these 10 books represent some of the best essay writing of the last century, spanning continents and languages, tackling subjects that range from political unrest to pulp fiction—and everything in-between. 

So, if you’re ready to expand your mind and change your outlook, add these essay collections to your TBR list today!

A Day in the Life of Roger Angell

A Day in the Life of Roger Angell

By Roger Angell

While you may not recognize Roger Angell’s name, you probably know who he is. The stepson of legendary author E. B. White, Angell has worked for the New Yorker in various capacities for decades, including as a frequent contributing writer. 

He has written about all sorts of subjects, especially baseball, and this unique collection pulls together a variety of his best-loved pieces, including his famous Christmas poems, a variety of parodies, and a “tense correspondence over a short fiction contest that pays only in baked goods.”

Related: "Your Horoscope," by Roger Angell

My Seditious Heart

My Seditious Heart

By Arundhati Roy

A New York Times  bestseller and Booker Prize winner, Arundhati Roy is many things, and in My Seditious Heart  she proves that among those is an “electrifying political essayist” ( Booklist ). 

Collecting essays from two decades of her life, this “lucid and probing” ( Time Magazine ) book presents a lifetime of battling for social and political justice and human rights, from American capitalism to the Hindu caste system and beyond. “The scale of what Roy surveys is staggering,” writes The New York Times Book Review . “Her pointed indictment is devastating.”

Want more great books? Sign up for the Early Bird Books newsletter and get the best daily ebook deals delivered straight to your inbox.

Men Explain Things to Me

Men Explain Things to Me

By Rebecca Solnit

In these “personal but unsentimental essays” ( The New York Times ), National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Rebecca Solnit provides the perfect “antidote to mansplaining” ( The Stranger ). 

From the title essay, which explores why men talk over women and what the ultimate cost of that is, to essays about Virginia Woolf and marriage equality, Solnit’s unsparing prose has been called “ essential feminist reading ” by The New Republic – and simply “essential” by Marketplace .

Collection of Sand

Collection of Sand

By Italo Calvino

Newly translated into English for the first time by Martin McLaughlin, this “brilliant collection of essays” and travelogues, the last piece of new writing published by the legendary Italo Calvino before his death, “may change the way you see the world around you” ( The Guardian ). 

From antique maps to Japanese gardens, Calvino takes us on a tour of the world, but also of his own mind, in the process heightening our appreciation of the visual world around us. 

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

By Joan Didion

In her first work of nonfiction, one of America’s most “dazzling” prose stylists ( The New York Times ) also establishes herself as a singular voice on American culture, painting a vivid portrait of a nation in the midst of tumultuous change. 

First published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has become a modern classic , hailed as “a rare display of some of the best prose written today in this country” by the New York Times Book Review . No wonder Time Magazine chose it as one of the 100 best and most influential nonfiction books to date.

Related: Joan Didion: Her Books, Life and Legacy

Essays After Eighty

Essays After Eighty

By Donald Hall

A former Poet Laureate of the United States, Donald Hall has “wrought his prose to a keen autumnal edge” in his waning years, according to The Wall Street Journal . This collection of essays written, as the title implies, after he turned 80, sees Hall reflecting on his life, on his career, on writing itself, and on the view out his window. 

“Alternately lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny ” ( The New York Times ), these essays show that Hall has never lost his deft touch, nor his passion for life and all of its mysteries, whimsies, and wonders.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

By Angela Y. Davis

Author of such classic works as Women, Race, and  Class, Angela Y. Davis made a name for herself as an activist and scholar with a penetrating insight into social issues. 

In this new collection of essays, she tackles some of the most pressing issues that affect our present moment , from the Black Lives Matter movement to Palestine and beyond, calling upon us all to imagine a better world – and do the important work required to make it possible.



By Walter Benjamin

A German cultural critic who has been called one of most original thinkers of the 20th century, Walter Benjamin fled Germany in 1932, as the Nazi party rose to power, and died in exile before the end of the second World War. 

Hannah Arendt, herself one of the most influential political theorists of the modern age, hand-assembled this collection of some of Benjamin’s most famous and most important essays, including his legendary “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to form this unforgettable book from a unique mind.

Tell Me How It Ends

Tell Me How It Ends

By Valeria Luiselli

An American Book Award Winner and a finalist for both the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, this “essay in forty questions” is a “moving, intimate” account of serving as a translator for undocumented children facing deportation ( The New York Times Book Review ). 

As a volunteer worker, Luiselli translated these forty questions from a court form to ask undocumented children who were under threat of deportation. By structuring her writing around them, she helps to put a vitally human face on children who are thrust into an often-uncaring system in this book that is, “Worth of inclusion in a great American (and international) canon of writing about migration” ( Texas Observer ).

Maps and Legends

Maps and Legends

By Michael Chabon

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay “makes an inviting case for bridging the gap between popular and literary writing” ( O, The Oprah Magazine ) in this appreciation of everything from pulp fiction to comic books, horror to westerns. 

By writing about the stories that move him, speak to him, and inspired him to write, Chabon also talks about his own identity as an author, and what storytelling means to all of us, whether he’s writing about Superman or Sherlock Holmes.

Related: 12 Michael Chabon Books You Won't Be Able to Put Down

Keep Reading: 10 Essential Essay-Length Memoirs You Can Read Online for Free

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18 of the Best Books on Writing (Updated for 2023)

18 of the Best Books on Writing (Updated for 2023)

Table of contents

best essay book in english

Ashley R. Cummings

The need for writers isn’t going away. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of writers and authors will continue to grow by 4% from 2021 to 2031 . And it’s projected that there will be an average of 15,000 job openings for writers and authors each year.

While there’s a huge need for writers, it’s also projected future writers will invest anywhere from $7000 to $40,000 to learn the craft. Gasp!

But there’s good news. You don’t necessarily need to invest $40K into a degree to learn how to write. There are countless books that will help you become the writer you’ve always dreamed of becoming and will help you earn money straight out of the gate.

Here’s a list of the top eighteen books that will prepare you for your writing career. ‍

“Read, read, read. Read everything  —  trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.” — William Faulkner

Best books on writing for business and marketing

Marketing is so important the U.S. spent more than $17 billion in 2021 on marketing data. A large part of marketing is knowing how to write marketing materials that engage audiences. Marketing is also one of the most lucrative freelance writing niches.

When marketing and selling anything, the words you choose to represent your products and brand are critical—these books will help you find the right ones.

1. Lost and Founder by Rand Fishkin

Best for : Entrepreneurs and marketers in the SaaS space

best essay book in english

In his book Lost and Founder, Fishkin walks readers through the process of creating a startup. He’s very transparent and doesn’t leave anything out—the roses and the warts are on full display. Lost and Founder is a wealth of first-hand experience that any new startup can learn from.

Most of this book is about all the steps involved in creating a startup, but he also goes through how to write pitches and marketing strategies that worked for him.

Furthermore, if you want to write for startups, it’s important to understand everything that goes into creating a startup. This will help you meet the writing needs of a startup, regardless of what stage it may be in.

2. Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi & Robert Rose

Best for : Modern marketing strategies/techniques

best essay book in english

Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose are founders and partners who love content marketing. In their book Killing Marketing, they say content isn’t just marketing; it’s an essential business strategy. 

This book focuses mostly on modern digital marketing techniques. It addresses how marketing has gone from creating ‘sale’ posters to being an essential part of adding value to a brand or company. Pulizzi and Rose use anecdotes and data from their own experiences to illustrate content writing and marketing techniques.

3. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Best for : Experienced marketers looking to fine-tune writing/strategies

best essay book in english

Predictably Irrational isn’t so much a book about writing as a book that can help writers understand what motivates us humans—which is essential for any great writer to understand.

Dan Ariely is an expert in behavioral economics, which studies how people behave when they perform any sort of action (e.g.,. shop, get married, apply for jobs, etc.).

Ariely and his team used experiments to see how suggestion, context, and even subliminal messaging can affect people’s behavior. To illustrate this point, Ariely uses an example where his team created a test that was easy to cheat on. 

Then, his team had respondents take the test again, but reminded them of any sort of moral code (like the ten commandments or even a fake ‘honor code’) right before taking the test to see if people cheated less after the reminder. You’ll have to read to find out the results, but I bet you can guess what happened.

This book is most beneficial for experienced writers and marketers looking to understand their audience on a deeper level.

Best books for copywriting

The biggest issue for copywriting (especially digital copywriting) is people don’t really read things all the way through anymore. 

According to a 20+ year study done by the Nielsen Norman Group , eye tracking research confirms that most internet users only skim and skip around a webpage for relevant info. That means copywriters must understand how to capture the attention of these skimmers and skippers. Here are books that will teach you the ins and outs of successful copywriting.

4. Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

Best for : Learning the fundamentals of advertising

best essay book in english

Ogilvy on Advertising is admittedly an older book that was first published in 1983. But it’s still considered one of the foremost texts for beginner copywriters and even marketers. It goes over all the fundamentals of advertising and how to write compelling copy.

If you’re new to copywriting and marketing in general, this book uses real life examples to illustrate advertising concepts. And although some of the advice about getting jobs and how to market in foreign markets may be out of date, Ogilvy’s lessons on things like research and brand image are still relevant today.

5. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan

Best for : Creating visual stories

best essay book in english

Luke Sullivan has been a successful advertiser for over 30 years. He’s worked at elite agencies, taught, consulted and trained. His book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This , uses real life examples like Charmin’s advertising campaign of the 1960s and 1970’s (the namesake of the book) to illustrate all aspects of advertising. 

Sullivan goes through everything from how to protect your work to how to write for social media. The book is snarky and witty and gives you a glimpse of what it feels like to work in the creative department at an ad agency. 

6. Finding the Right Message by Jennifer Havice

Best for : How to research your audience

best essay book in english

Finding the Right Message is all about delving deeper into understanding what makes your customers tick. It offers step-by-step guides on things like:

  • How to craft customer-centric messages
  • The types of questions to ask when conducting interviews and surveys
  • How to research your customers and the market

Havice offers insight into how to study your audience. She then goes through how you can create messages that will pique your audience’s interest. Using her expertise as a messaging strategist and copywriter, she goes over all the things a copywriter needs to reach their audience.

Best books for longform writing

The average time spent on any webpage is 54 seconds. So, it’s important for longform articles to really engage readers in order to keep them reading for more than 54 seconds. Learning how to write engaging longform articles and books may not come naturally, but here are some books to lead you in the right direction.

7. Writing Feature Stories by Matthew Ricketson & Caroline Graham

Best fo r: Comprehensive writing fundamentals

best essay book in english

Matthew Ricketson and Caroline Graham go over the fundamentals of writing engaging and informative longform writing in their book, Writing Feature Stories . They help both journalists and blog writers go beyond the basic who, why, what, where, and when. 

This book will help you generate new ideas, teach you how to do research for your stories, how to edit your work, and how to find the best platform for your work. Using all the information Ricketson and Graham provide, it’ll also help you get over any fear of longform writing.

8. Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies by Sol Stein

Best for : Novelists

best essay book in english

Sol Stein is a well known editor and teacher that uses practical and his own real-world experiences to help writers write better. Stein on Writing gives writers practical ways to improve their writing instead of relying on theory. 

A lot of this book is focused on helping novelists with creating more interesting characters, more realistic dialogue, and structure. But it also goes over things like how to trim the fat away from your writing and more efficient ways to edit and revise your drafts.

9. How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia

Best for : Motivation and practical strategies

best essay book in english

The title says it all. Paul Silvia uses his book, How to Write a Lot to help you become a more efficient and effective longform writer. He uses practical strategies that even go through how to make a schedule, how to get over writer’s block, and ultimately how to write like a professional.

Best books for essay writing and academic writing

Whether you’re trying to write OpEds for the New Yorker or just finishing your term paper, you can use these books to learn how to write effective essays for the world of academia.

10. A Professor’s Guide to Writing Essays: The No-Nonsense Plan for Better Writing by Dr. Jacob Newman

Best for : Straightforward and practical writing

best essay book in english

If you feel intimidated by academic writing, A Professor’s Guide to Writing Essays is a great book to help you overcome that. Dr. Jacob Newman has been a professor for a long time and uses his experiences to help writers navigate the world of academia. 

Giving useful tips and real world examples, Dr. Newman helps to dispel the idea that academic writing is any different from other kinds of writing. His book is straightforward and practical and focuses on helping students, professors, and anyone else looking to conquer writing academic papers.

11. Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword

Best for : Analysis of real articles and essays

best essay book in english

Helen Sword believes that data deserves to be presented in an elegant way. Her book Stylish Academic Writing , presents her analyses of over a thousand peer-reviewed articles (on all subjects) that show how important it is for academic writers to know how to write well.

She shows readers the skills they can learn through the examples in her book. Sword will make you a believer that compelling data should be presented with compelling writing. Slapping data onto a page just isn’t good enough anymore. 

12. Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers by Jacques Barzun

Best for : Exercises that help readers learn concepts

best essay book in english

Jacques Barzun was a noted teacher, historian and author. His book Simple & Direct, is just that. He uses a no-nonsense style to help writers improve their technique.

Simple & Direct may have been published in the 70s, but the writing exercises, model passages, and examples provided in the book are a treasure trove for any writer looking to better their craft.

Books that relate to writing in 2022

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Mad Men, you know that advertising must change with the times. Not only does the medium change (e.g., newspapers, radio, TV, internet, etc.) but so does your audience. 

For example, Baby Boomers were concerned with security, Gen Xers were concerned with buying things, millennials cared about buying experiences, and Gen Zers care about supporting companies that have the same beliefs as them. 

So while you can keep the same foundational concepts, there are things writers must learn as they write for the 21st century.

13. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

Best for : Relating to all types of writing

best essay book in english

Steven Pinker is a Harvard psychology professor who has used his own research and experience to write, The Sense of Style . In this book, writers will learn writing techniques to create compelling prose and Pinker gives real-world examples to help illustrate his points.

If you’re looking to infuse more style into your writing and interested in making your writing stand out in today’s day and age, then this is the book for you.

14. You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins

Best for : Bloggers, content creators, indie authors

best essay book in english

“Dress for the job you want” and “fake it ‘till you make it.” The idea that you should start acting like the writer you want to be is exactly what Jeff Goins addresses in his book, You are a Writer .

This book is a guide that will help writers in their craft, work ethic, and in marketing their material. It’s perfect for bloggers, content creators, and anyone who has been waiting to fulfill their dream of becoming a full-time writer.

15. The End of Marketing : Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI by Carlos Gil

Best for : focus on engagement

best essay book in english

Carlos Gil breaks down the science of modern marketing in his book The End of Marketing . He breaks down essential topics like:

  • What modern audiences want
  • Storytelling
  • How to get attention on social media and how to use social media as feedback
  • How to be genuine
  • How to find your customers

The End of Marketing unravels the mysteries of influencers, social media algorithms, and staying on trend. It’s a must read for any writer today.

Books on writing for social media

There are over 4.7 billion active social media users worldwide. In a global survey done by Statista in 2022, 61% of marketers said they would increase their usage of Instagram and 37% said they’re increasing usage of TikTok advertising. Social media isn’t going away, and it always needs content, which means, it needs good writers.

16. Everybody Writes : Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley

Best for : Bloggers and content creators

best essay book in english

Everybody Writes teaches readers not only how to write, but also how to engage audiences with truthful storytelling. She offers practical how-tos for writing technique, publishing, and even how to find content ideas. 

Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is one of the most highly rated overall writing books, and is especially helpful for those looking to write for social media. She also recently released an updated version with new examples.

17. Brand Storytelling: Put Customers at the Heart of Your Brand Story by: Miri Rodriguez

Best for : Step-by-step guide on how to build a brand story

best essay book in english

Miri Rodriguez is an award winning storyteller and creative journalist at Microsoft. In her book Brand Storytelling she shows readers the importance of creating an emotional connection with your audience.

She uses case studies and interviews to show readers how, in this world of digital screens and AI, human connection will always win out. 

18. Faster, Smarter, Louder: Master Attention in a Noisy Digital Market by Aaron Agius and Gián Clancey

Best for : How to grow business from start to multimillion global company

best essay book in english

Aaron Agius and Gián Clancey are the founders of the successful global marketing firm But they weren’t always successful, they actually first went into business together in 2008, but that business didn’t work out and forced them to move back home to Australia. But their experiences made them write Faster, Smarter, [and] Louder. 

This book gives writers technical and practical tips on how to gain credibility, increase online traffic, and engage with audiences. 

Read to become a better writer!

This list is just a start. If you want to be a writer, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, all you need is a library card or a connection to the internet.

In fact, even if you don't have time to learn how to write, that’s no longer an obstacle either. There are several AI and editing tools that will write content for you and help you fine-tune your sentences to stand out from other writers. There are also blogs that will give you all the resources and info you need to become a stellar writer. 

So stop sitting around thinking “one day” you’ll be a writer. As Stephen King said in On Writing , “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

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100 Best Essays Books of All Time

We've researched and ranked the best essays books in the world, based on recommendations from world experts, sales data, and millions of reader ratings. Learn more

best essay book in english

Men Explain Things to Me

Rebecca Solnit | 5.00

best essay book in english

Chelsea Handler Goes deep with statistics, personal stories, and others’ accounts of how brutal this world can be for women, the history of how we've been treated, and what it will take to change the conversation: MEN. We need them to be as outraged as we are and join our fight. (Source)

See more recommendations for this book...

best essay book in english

Me Talk Pretty One Day

David Sedaris | 4.96

best essay book in english

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates | 4.94

best essay book in english

Barack Obama The president also released a list of his summer favorites back in 2015: All That Is, James Salter The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (Source)

Jack Dorsey Q: What are the books that had a major influence on you? Or simply the ones you like the most. : Tao te Ching, score takes care of itself, between the world and me, the four agreements, the old man and the sea...I love reading! (Source)

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Doug McMillon Here are some of my favorite reads from 2017. Lots of friends and colleagues send me book suggestions and it's impossible to squeeze them all in. I continue to be super curious about how digital and tech are enabling people to transform our lives but I try to read a good mix of books that apply to a variety of areas and stretch my thinking more broadly. (Source)

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Joan Didion | 4.94

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Peter Hessler I like Didion for her writing style and her control over her material, but also for the way in which she captures a historical moment. (Source)

Liz Lambert I love [this book] so much. (Source)

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We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 4.92

best essay book in english

Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay | 4.88

best essay book in english

Irina Nica It’s hard to pick an all-time favorite because, as time goes by and I grow older, my reading list becomes more “mature” and I find myself interested in new things. I probably have a personal favorite book for each stage of my life. Right now I’m absolutely blown away by everything Roxane Gay wrote, especially Bad Feminist. (Source)

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Trick Mirror

Reflections on Self-Delusion

Jia Tolentino | 4.86

best essay book in english

Lydia Polgreen This book is amazing and you should read it. (Source)

Maryanne Hobbs ⁦@jiatolentino⁩ hello Jia :) finding your perspectives in the new book fascinating and so resonant.. thank you 🌹 m/a..x (Source)

Yashar Ali . @jiatolentino’s fabulous book is one of President Obama’s favorite books of 2019 (Source)

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Consider the Lobster

And Other Essays

David Foster Wallace | 4.85

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A Room of One's Own

Virginia Woolf | 4.75

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Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim

David Sedaris | 4.73

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Adam Kay @penceyprepmemes How about David Sedaris, for starters - "Dress your family in corduroy and denim" is an amazing book. (Source)

Don't have time to read the top Essays books of all time? Read Shortform summaries.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by:

  • Being comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book
  • Cutting out the fluff: you focus your time on what's important to know
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

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The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin | 4.69

Barack Obama Fact or fiction, the president knows that reading keeps the mind sharp. He also delved into these non-fiction reads: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Evan Osnos Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman Moral Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr A Kind And Just Parent, William Ayers The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria Lessons in Disaster, Gordon Goldstein Sapiens: A Brief History of... (Source)

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When You Are Engulfed in Flames

David Sedaris | 4.67

best essay book in english

David Sedaris | 4.63

best essay book in english

David Blaine It’s hilarious. (Source)

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The White Album

Joan Didion | 4.62

best essay book in english

Dan Richards I feel Joan Didion is the patron saint of a maelstrom of culture and environment of a particular time. She is the great American road-trip writer, to my mind. She has that great widescreen filmic quality to her work. (Source)

Steven Amsterdam With her gaze on California of the late 60s and early 70s, Didion gives us the Black Panthers, Janis Joplin, Nancy Reagan, and the Manson follower Linda Kasabian. (Source)

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A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Essays and Arguments

David Foster Wallace | 4.61

best essay book in english

Tressie McMillan Cottom | 4.60

best essay book in english

Melissa Moore The best book I read this year was Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom. I read it twice and both times found it challenging and revelatory. (Source)

best essay book in english

David Sedaris and Hachette Audi | 4.60

best essay book in english

Sister Outsider

Essays and Speeches

Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke | 4.60

best essay book in english

Bianca Belair For #BHM  I will be sharing some of my favorite books by Black Authors 26th Book: Sister Outsider By: Audre Lorde My first time reading anything by Audre Lorde. I am now really looking forward to reading more of her poems/writings. What she writes is important & timeless. (Source)

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Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

David Sedaris | 4.58

Austin Kleon I read this one, then I read his collected diaries, Theft By Finding, and then I read the visual compendium, which might have even been the most interesting of the three books, but I’m listing this one because it’s hilarious, although with the interstitial fiction bits, it’s sort of like one of those classic 90s hip-hop albums where you skip the “skit” tracks. (Source)

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Notes from a Loud Woman

Lindy West | 4.56

best essay book in english

Matt Mcgorry "Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman" by Lindy West @TheLindyWest # Lovvvvveeedddd, loved, loved, loved this book!!!  West is a truly remarkable writer and her stories are beautifully poignant while dosed with her… (Source)

Shannon Coulter @JennLHaglund @tomi_adeyemi I love that feeling! Just finished the audiobook version of Shrill by Lindy West after _years_ of meaning to read it and that's the exact feeling it gave me. Give me your book recommendations! (Source)

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The Collected Schizophrenias

Esmé Weijun Wang | 4.52

best essay book in english

Tiny Beautiful Things

Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Cheryl Strayed | 4.49

best essay book in english

Ryan Holiday It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. Cheryl Strayed, also the author of Wild, was the anonymous columnist behind the online column, Dear Sugar and boy, are we better off for it. This is not a random smattering of advice. This book contains some of the most cogent insights on life, pain, loss, love, success, youth that I... (Source)

James Altucher Cheryl had an advice column called “Dear Sugar”. I was reading the column long before Oprah recommended “Wild” by Cheryl and then Wild became a movie and “Tiny Beautiful Things” (the collection of her advice column) became a book. She is so wise and compassionate. A modern saint. I used to do Q&A sessions on Twitter. I’d read her book beforehand to get inspiration about what true advice is. (Source)

best essay book in english

We Were Eight Years in Power

An American Tragedy

Ta-Nehisi Coates | 4.47

best essay book in english

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Albert Camu | 4.47

best essay book in english

David Heinemeier Hansson Camus’ philosophical exposition of absurdity, suicide in the face of meaninglessness, and other cherry topics that continue on from his fictional work in novels like The Stranger. It’s surprisingly readable, unlike many other mid 20th century philosophers, yet no less deep or pointy. It’s a great follow-up, as an original text, to that book The Age of Absurdity, I recommended last year. Still... (Source)

Kenan Malik The Myth of Sisyphus is a small work, but Camus’s meditation on faith and fate has personally been hugely important in developing my ideas. Writing in the embers of World War II, Camus confronts in The Myth of Sisyphus both the tragedy of recent history and what he sees as the absurdity of the human condition. There is, he observes, a chasm between the human need for meaning and what he calls... (Source)

best essay book in english

The Penguin Essays Of George Orwell

George Orwell, Bernard Crick | 4.46

best essay book in english

Peter Kellner George Orwell was not only an extraordinary writer but he also hated any form of cant. Some of his most widely read works such as 1984 and Animal Farm are an assault on the nastier, narrow-minded, dictatorial tendencies of the left, although Orwell was himself on the left. (Source)

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The Opposite of Loneliness

Essays and Stories

Marina Keegan, Anne Fadiman | 4.46

best essay book in english

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | 4.45

best essay book in english

The Tipping Point

How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Malcolm Gladwell | 4.45

best essay book in english

Kevin Rose Bunch of really good information in here on how to make ideas go viral. This could be good to apply to any kind of products or ideas you may have. Definitely, check out The Tipping Point, which is one of my favorites. (Source)

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Seth Godin Malcolm Gladwell's breakthrough insight was to focus on the micro-relationships between individuals, which helped organizations realize that it's not about the big ads and the huge charity balls... it's about setting the stage for the buzz to start. (Source)

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Andy Stern I think that when we talk about making change, it is much more about macro change, like in policy. This book reminds you that at times when you're building big movements, or trying to elect significant decision-makers in politics, sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. Ever since the book was written, we've become very used to the idea of things going viral unexpectedly and then... (Source)

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Selected Essays

Mary Oliver | 4.44

best essay book in english

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

Samantha Irby | 4.44

best essay book in english

Complete Essays

Michel de Montaigne, Charles Cotton | 4.42

best essay book in english

Ryan Holiday There is plenty to study and see simply by looking inwards — maybe even an alarming amount. (Source)

Alain de Botton I’ve given quite a lot of copies of [this book] to people down the years. (Source)

best essay book in english

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Mindy Kaling | 4.42

best essay book in english

Angela Kinsey .@mindykaling I am rereading your book and cracking up. I appreciate your chapter on The Office so much more now. But all of it is fantastic. Thanks for starting my day with laughter. You know I loves ya. ❤️ (Source)

Yashar Ali Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from @mindykaling's book (even though I'm an early riser): “There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” (Source)

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Not That Bad

Dispatches from Rape Culture

Roxane Gay, Brandon Taylor, et al | 4.40

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Henry David Thoreau | 4.40

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Laura Dassow Walls The book that we love as Walden began in the journal entries that he wrote starting with his first day at the pond. (Source)

Roman Krznaric In 1845 the American naturalist went out to live in the woods of Western Massachusetts. Thoreau was one of the great masters of the art of simple living. (Source)

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John Kaag There’s this idea that philosophy can blend into memoir and that, ideally, philosophy, at its best, is to help us through the business of living with people, within communities. This is a point that Thoreau’s Walden gave to me, as a writer, and why I consider it so valuable for today. (Source)

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Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman | 4.40

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I Feel Bad About My Neck

And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

Nora Ephron | 4.39

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Holidays on Ice

David Sedaris | 4.37

best essay book in english

An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine | 4.36

best essay book in english

Cheryl Strayed A really important book for us to be reading right now. (Source)

Jeremy Noel-Tod Obviously, it’s been admired and acclaimed, but I do feel the general reception of it has underplayed its artfulness. Its technical subtlety and overall arrangement has been neglected, because it has been classified as a kind of documentary work. (Source)

best essay book in english

Christopher Hitchens | 4.36

best essay book in english

Le Grove @billysubway Hitchens book under your arm. I’m reading Arguably. When he’s at his best, he is a savage. Unbelievable prose. (Source)

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Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin | 4.35

best essay book in english

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

Oliver Sacks | 4.34

best essay book in english

Suzanne O'Sullivan I didn’t choose neurology because of it but the way Oliver Sacks writes about neurology is very compelling. (Source)

Tanya Byron This is a seminal book that anyone who wants to work in mental health should read. It is a charming and gentle and also an honest exposé of what can happen to us when our mental health is compromised for whatever reason. (Source)

Bradley Voytek I can’t imagine one day waking up and not knowing who my wife is, or seeing my wife and thinking that she was replaced by some sort of clone or robot. But that could happen to any of us. (Source)

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The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison | 4.33

best essay book in english

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Ann Patchett | 4.31

best essay book in english

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

A Low Culture Manifesto

Chuck Klosterman | 4.30

Karen Pfaff Manganillo Never have I read a book that I said “this is so perfect, amazing, hilarious, he’s thinking what I’m thinking (in a much more thought out and cool way)”. (Source)

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Bird By Bird

Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott | 4.29

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Susan Cain I love [this book]. Such a good book. (Source)

Timothy Ferriss Bird by Bird is one of my absolute favorite books, and I gift it to everybody, which I should probably also give to startup founders, quite frankly. A lot of the lessons are the same. But you can get to your destination, even though you can only see 20 feet in front of you. (Source)

Ryan Holiday It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women. [...] Anne Lamott’s book is ostensibly about the art of writing, but really it too is about life and how to tackle the problems, temptations and opportunities life throws at us. Both will make you think and both made me a better person this year. (Source)

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Zadie Smith | 4.29

Barack Obama As 2018 draws to a close, I’m continuing a favorite tradition of mine and sharing my year-end lists. It gives me a moment to pause and reflect on the year through the books I found most thought-provoking, inspiring, or just plain loved. It also gives me a chance to highlight talented authors – some who are household names and others who you may not have heard of before. Here’s my best of 2018... (Source)

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What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

Malcolm Gladwell | 4.28

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Sam Freedman @mrianleslie (Also I agree What the Dog Saw is his best book). (Source)

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The Witches Are Coming

Lindy West | 4.27

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Against Interpretation and Other Essays

Susan Sontag | 4.25

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

Alexander Chee | 4.25

Eula Biss Alex Chee explores the realm of the real with extraordinarily beautiful essays. Being real here is an ambition, a haunting, an impossibility, and an illusion. What passes for real, his essays suggest, becomes real, just as life becomes art and art, pursued this fully, becomes a life. (Source)

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Changing My Mind

Occasional Essays

Zadie Smith | 4.25

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Barrel Fever

David Sedaris | 4.24

Chelsea Handler [The author] is fucking hilarious and there's nothing I prefer to do more than laugh. If this book doesn't make you laugh, I'll refund you the money. (Source)

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The Fire This Time

A New Generation Speaks About Race

Jesmyn Ward | 4.24

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Why Not Me?

Mindy Kaling | 4.24

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The View from the Cheap Seats

Selected Nonfiction

Neil Gaiman | 4.24

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I Was Told There'd Be Cake

Sloane Crosley | 4.24

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The Intelligent Investor

The Classic Text on Value Investing

Benjamin Graham | 4.23

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Warren Buffett To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What's needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. This book precisely and clearly prescribes the proper framework. You must provide the emotional discipline. (Source)

Kevin Rose The foundation for investing. A lot of people have used this as their guide to getting into investment, basic strategies. Actually Warren Buffett cites this as the book that got him into investing and he says that principles he learned here helped him to become a great investor. Highly recommend this book. It’s a great way understand what’s going on and how to evaluate different companies out... (Source)

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John Kay The idea is that you look at the underlying value of the company’s activities instead of relying on market gossip. (Source)

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Tell Me How It Ends

An Essay in Forty Questions

Valeria Luiselli | 4.23

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Tina Fey | 4.22

Sheryl Sandberg I absolutely loved Tina Fey's "Bossypants" and didn't want it to end. It's hilarious as well as important. Not only was I laughing on every page, but I was nodding along, highlighting and dog-earing like crazy. [...] It is so, so good. As a young girl, I was labeled bossy, too, so as a former - O.K., current - bossypants, I am grateful to Tina for being outspoken, unapologetic and hysterically... (Source)

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They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Hanif Abdurraqib, Dr. Eve L. Ewing | 4.22

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Saadia Muzaffar Man, this is such an amazing book of essays. Meditations on music and musicians and their moments and meaning-making. @NifMuhammad's mindworks are a gift. Go find it. (thank you @asad_ch!) (Source)

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This Is Water

Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

David Foster Wallace | 4.21

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John Jeremiah Sullivan | 4.21

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Greil Marcus This is a new book by a writer in his mid-thirties, about all kinds of things. A lot of it is about the South, some of it is autobiographical, there is a long and quite wonderful piece about going to a Christian music camp. (Source)

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The Mother of All Questions

Rebecca Solnit | 4.20

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The Partly Cloudy Patriot

Sarah Vowell, Katherine Streeter | 4.20

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Essays of E.B. White

E. B. White | 4.19

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Adam Gopnik White, for me, is the great maker of the New Yorker style. Though it seems self-serving for me to say it, I think that style was the next step in the creation of the essay tone. One of the things White does is use a lot of the habits of the American newspaper in his essays. He is a genuinely simple, spare, understated writer. In the presence of White, even writers as inspired as Woolf and... (Source)

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A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Rebecca Solnit | 4.19

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A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut | 4.18

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No Time to Spare

Thinking About What Matters

Ursula K. Le Guin, Karen Joy Fowler | 4.17

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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard | 4.16

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Laura Dassow Walls She’s enacting Thoreau, but in a 20th-century context: she takes on quantum physics, the latest research on DNA and the nature of life. (Source)

Sara Maitland This book, which won the Pulitzer literature prize when it was released, is the most beautiful book about the wild. (Source)

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Maggie Nelson | 4.14

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Furiously Happy

A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Jenny Lawson | 4.13

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Women & Power

A Manifesto

Mary Beard | 4.13

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Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Timothy Snyder | 4.12

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George Saunders Please read this book. So smart, so timely. (Source)

Tom Holland "There isn’t a page of this magnificent book that does not contain some fascinating detail and the narrative is held together with a novelist’s eye for character and theme." #Dominion (Source)

Maya Wiley Prof. Tim Snyder, author of “In Tyranny” reminded us in that important little book that we must protect our institutions. #DOJ is one of our most important in gov’t for the rule of law. This is our collective house & #Barr should be evicted. (Source)

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Small Wonder

Barbara Kingsolver | 4.11

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The Source of Self-Regard

Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

Toni Morrison | 4.11

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Hyperbole and a Half

Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

Allie Brosh | 4.11

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Bill Gates While she self-deprecatingly depicts herself in words and art as an odd outsider, we can all relate to her struggles. Rather than laughing at her, you laugh with her. It is no hyperbole to say I love her approach -- looking, listening, and describing with the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian. (Source)

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Samantha Irby | 4.10

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Both Flesh and Not

David Foster Wallace | 4.10

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David Papineau People can learn to do amazing things with their bodies, and people start honing and developing these skills as an end in itself, a very natural thing for humans to do. (Source)

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So Sad Today

Personal Essays

Melissa Broder | 4.10

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Hope in the Dark

Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Rebecca Solnit | 4.09

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Prem Panicker @sanjayen This is from an essay Solnit wrote to introduce the updated version of her book Hope In The Dark. Anything Solnit is brilliant; at times like these, she is the North Star. (Source)

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The Faraway Nearby

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How to Be Alone

Jonathan Franzen | 4.08

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Regarding the Pain of Others

Susan Sontag | 4.08

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The Essays of Warren Buffett

Lessons for Corporate America, Fifth Edition

Lawrence A. Cunningham and Warren E. Buffett | 4.08

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One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Scaachi Koul | 4.07

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Amy Poehler | 4.06

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The Souls of Black Folk

W.E.B. Du Bois | 4.05

Barack Obama According to the president’s Facebook page and a 2008 interview with the New York Times, these titles are among his most influential forever favorites: Moby Dick, Herman Melville Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson Song Of Solomon, Toni Morrison Parting The Waters, Taylor Branch Gilead, Marylinne Robinson Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton Souls of Black... (Source)

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In Praise of Shadows

Jun'ichiro Tanizaki | 4.05

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Kyle Chayka Tanizaki is mourning what has been paved over, which is the old Japanese aesthetic of darkness, of softness, of appreciating the imperfect—rather than the cold, glossy surfaces of industrialized modernity that the West had brought to Japan at that moment. For me, that’s really valuable, because it does preserve a different way of looking at the world. (Source)

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Ways of Seeing

John Berger | 4.04

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Robert Jones He’s a Marxist and says that the role of publicity or branding is to make people marginally dissatisfied with their current way of life. (Source)

David McCammon Ways of Seeing goes beyond photography and will continue to develop your language around images. (Source)

John Harrison (Eton College) You have to understand the Marxist interpretation of art; it is absolutely fundamental to the way that art history departments now study the material. Then you have to critique it, because we’ve moved on from the 1970s and the collapse of Marxism in most of the world shows—amongst other things—that the model was flawed. But it’s still a very good book to read, for a teenager especially. (Source)

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Tackling the Texas Essays

Efficient Preparation for the Texas Bar Exam

Catherine Martin Christopher | 4.04

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The Book of Delights

Ross Gay | 4.04

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Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis | 4.04

Anoop Anthony "Mere Christianity" is first and foremost a rational book — it is in many ways the opposite of a traditional religious tome. Lewis, who was once an atheist, has been on both sides of the table, and he approaches the notion of God with accessible, clear thinking. The book reveals that experiencing God doesn't have to be a mystical exercise; God can be a concrete and logical conclusion. Lewis was... (Source)

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I Remember Nothing

and Other Reflections

Nora Ephron | 4.04

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On Photography

Susan Sontag | 4.03

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Susan Bordo Sontag was the first to make the claim, which at the time was very controversial, that photography is misleading and seductive because it looks like reality but is in fact highly selective. (Source)

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Notes from No Man's Land

American Essays

Eula Biss | 4.03

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The Doors of Perception

Heaven and Hell (Thinking Classics)

Aldous Huxley, Robbie McCallum | 4.03

best essay book in english

Michelle Rodriguez Aldous Huxley on Technodictators via @YouTube ‘Doors of Perception’ is a great book entry level to hallucinogenics (Source)

Auston Bunsen I also really loved “The doors of perception” by Aldous Huxley. (Source)

Dr. Andrew Weil Came first [in terms of my interests]. (Source)

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The Geek Feminist Revolution

Kameron Hurley | 4.02

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Wow, No Thank You.

Samantha Irby | 4.01

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A Modest Proposal

Jonathan Swift | 4.01

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At Large and at Small

Familiar Essays

Anne Fadiman | 4.00

40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

I had little money (buying forty collections of essays was out of the question) so I’ve found them online instead. I’ve hacked through piles of them, and finally, I’ve found the great ones. Now I want to share the whole list with you (with the addition of my notes about writing). Each item on the list has a direct link to the essay, so please click away and indulge yourself. Also, next to each essay, there’s an image of the book that contains the original work.

About this essay list:

40 best essays of all time (with links and writing tips), 1. david sedaris – laugh, kookaburra.

A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs… This is one of the top essays of the lot. It’s a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what’s most important in life. You’ll also learn an awful lot about the curious culture of the Aussies.

Writing tips from the essay:

2. charles d’ambrosio – documents, 3. e. b. white – once more to the lake, 4. zadie smith – fail better, 5. virginia woolf – death of the moth, 6. meghan daum – my misspent youth, 7. roger ebert – go gentle into that good night, 8. george orwell – shooting an elephant, 9. george orwell – a hanging, 10. christopher hitchens – assassins of the mind, 11. christopher hitchens – the new commandments, 12. phillip lopate – against joie de vivre, 13. philip larkin – the pleasure principle, 14. sigmund freud – thoughts for the times on war and death, 15. zadie smith – some notes on attunement.

“You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing” – Francis Dolarhyde. This one is about the elusiveness of change occurring within you. For Zadie, it was hard to attune to the vibes of Joni Mitchell – especially her Blue album. But eventually, she grew up to appreciate her genius, and all the other things changed as well. This top essay is all about the relationship between humans, and art. We shouldn’t like art because we’re supposed to. We should like it because it has an instantaneous, emotional effect on us. Although, according to Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Léon, liking Beethoven is rather mandatory.

16. Annie Dillard – Total Eclipse

17. édouard levé – when i look at a strawberry, i think of a tongue, 18. gloria e. anzaldúa – how to tame a wild tongue, 19. kurt vonnegut – dispatch from a man without a country, 20. mary ruefle – on fear.

Most psychologists and gurus agree that fear is the greatest enemy of success or any creative activity. It’s programmed into our minds to keep us away from imaginary harm. Mary Ruefle takes on this basic human emotion with flair. She explores fear from so many angles (especially in the world of poetry-writing) that at the end of this personal essay, you will look at it, dissect it, untangle it, and hopefully be able to say “f**k you” the next time your brain is trying to stop you.

21. Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation

22. nora ephron – a few words about breasts, 23. carl sagan – does truth matter – science, pseudoscience, and civilization, 24. paul graham – how to do what you love, 25. john jeremiah sullivan – mister lytle, 26. joan didion – on self respect, 27. susan sontag – notes on camp, 28. ralph waldo emerson – self-reliance, 29. david foster wallace – consider the lobster, 30. david foster wallace – the nature of the fun.

The famous novelist and author of the most powerful commencement speech ever done is going to tell you about the joys and sorrows of writing a work of fiction. It’s like taking care of a mutant child that constantly oozes smelly liquids. But you love that child and you want others to love it too. It’s a very humorous account of what it means to be an author. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless.

31. Margaret Atwood – Attitude

32. jo ann beard – the fourth state of matter, 33. terence mckenna – tryptamine hallucinogens and consciousness, 34. eudora welty – the little store, 35. john mcphee – the search for marvin gardens.

The Search for Marvin Gardens contains many layers of meaning. It’s a story about a Monopoly championship, but also, it’s the author’s search for the lost streets visible on the board of the famous board game. It also presents a historical perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations, and on Atlantic City, which once was a lively place, and then, slowly declined, the streets filled with dirt and broken windows.

36. Maxine Hong Kingston – No Name Woman

37. joan didion – on keeping a notebook, 38. joan didion – goodbye to all that, 39. george orwell – reflections on gandhi, 40. george orwell – politics and the english language, other essays you may find interesting, oliver sacks – on libraries, noam chomsky – the responsibility of intellectuals, sam harris – the riddle of the gun.

Sam Harris, now a famous philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on the problem of gun control in the United States. His thoughts are clear of prejudice. After reading this, you’ll appreciate the value of logical discourse overheated, irrational debate that more often than not has real implications on policy.

Tim Ferriss – Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide

Edward said – reflections on exile, richard feynman – it’s as simple as one, two, three…, rabindranath tagore – the religion of the forest, richard dawkins – letter to his 10-year-old daughter.

Every father should be able to articulate his philosophy of life to his children. With this letter that’s similar to what you find in the Paris Review essays , the famed atheist and defender of reason, Richard Dawkins, does exactly that. It’s beautifully written and stresses the importance of looking at evidence when we’re trying to make sense of the world.

Albert Camus – The Minotaur (or, The Stop In Oran)

Koty neelis – 21 incredible life lessons from anthony bourdain, lucius annaeus seneca – on the shortness of life, bertrand russell – in praise of idleness, james baldwin – stranger in the village.

It’s an essay on the author’s experiences as an African-American in a Swiss village, exploring race, identity, and alienation while highlighting the complexities of racial dynamics and the quest for belonging.

Bonus – More writing tips from two great books

The sense of style – by steven pinker, on writing well – by william zinsser, now immerse yourself in the world of essays, rafal reyzer.

Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time entrepreneur building two companies, a digital marketer, and a content creator with 10+ years of experience. I started to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to become a proficient digital marketer and achieve freedom through online creativity. My site is a one-stop shop for digital marketers, and content enthusiasts who want to be independent, earn more money, and create beautiful things. Explore my journey here , and don't miss out on my AI Marketing Mastery online course.

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best essay book in english

The Best Reviewed Essay Collections of 2020

Featuring zadie smith, helen macdonald, claudia rankine, samantha irby, and more.

Zadie Smith’s Intimations , Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights , Claudia Rankine’s Just Us , and Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You all feature among the Best Reviewed Essay Collections of 2020.

Brought to you by Book Marks , Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”

Vesper Flights ribbon

1. Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (Grove)

18 Rave • 3 Positive • 1 Mixed

Read Helen Macdonald on Sherlock Holmes, Ursula Le Guin, and hating On the Road  here

“A former historian of science, Macdonald is as captivated by the everyday (ants, bird’s nests) as she is by the extraordinary (glowworms, total solar eclipses), and her writing often closes the distance between the two … Always, the author pushes through the gloom to look beyond herself, beyond all people, to ‘rejoice in the complexity of things’ and to see what science has to show us: ‘that we are living in an exquisitely complicated world that is not all about us’ … The climate crisis shadows these essays. Macdonald is not, however, given to sounding dire, all-caps warnings … For all its elegiac sentences and gray moods, Vesper Flights  is a book of tremendous purpose. Throughout these essays, Macdonald revisits the idea that as a writer it is her responsibility to take stock of what’s happening to the natural world and to convey the value of the living things within it.”

–Jake Cline  ( The Washington Post )

2. Intimations by Zadie Smith (Penguin)

13 Rave • 7 Positive • 3 Mixed

Listen to Zadie Smith read from Intimations here

“Smith…is a spectacular essayist—even better, I’d say, than as a novelist … Smith…get[s] at something universal, the suspicion that has infiltrated our interactions even with those we want to think we know. This is the essential job of the essayist: to explore not our innocence but our complicity. I want to say this works because Smith doesn’t take herself too seriously, but that’s not accurate. More to the point, she is willing to expose the tangle of feelings the pandemic has provoked. And this may seem a small thing, but it’s essential: I never doubt her voice on the page … Her offhandedness, at first, feels out of step with a moment in which we are desperate to feel that whatever something we are trying to do matters. But it also describes that moment perfectly … Here we see the kind of devastating self-exposure that the essay, as a form, requires—the realization of how limited we are even in the best of times, and how bereft in the worst.”

–David L. Ulin  ( The Los Angeles Times )

3. Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)

11 Rave • 6 Positive • 5 Mixed

Read an excerpt from Just Us here

“ Just Us  is about intimacy. Rankine is making an appeal for real closeness. She’s advocating for candor as the pathway to achieving universal humanity and authentic love … Rankine is vulnerable, too. In ‘lemonade,’ an essay about how race and racism affect her interracial marriage, Rankine models the openness she hopes to inspire. ‘lemonade’ is hard to handle. It’s naked and confessional, deeply moving and, ultimately, inspirational … Just Us , as a book, is inventive … Claudia Rankine may be the most human human I’ve ever encountered. Her inner machinations and relentless questioning would exhaust most people. Her labor should be less necessary, of course.”

–Michael Kleber-Diggs  ( The Star Tribune )

4. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong (One World)

7 Rave • 10 Positive • 2 Mixed

Listen to an interview with Cathy Park Hong here

“Hong’s metaphors are crafted with stinging care. To be Asian-American, she suggests, is to be tasked with making an injury inaccessible to the body that has been injured … I read Minor Feelings  in a fugue of enveloping recognition and distancing flinch … The question of lovability, and desirability, is freighted for Asian men and Asian women in very different ways—and Minor Feelings  serves as a case study in how a feminist point of view can both deepen an inquiry and widen its resonances to something like universality … Hong reframes the quandary of negotiating dominance and submission—of desiring dominance, of hating the terms of that dominance, of submitting in the hopes of achieving some facsimile of dominance anyway—as a capitalist dilemma … Hong is writing in agonized pursuit of a liberation that doesn’t look white—a new sound, a new affect, a new consciousness—and the result feels like what she was waiting for. Her book is a reminder that we can be, and maybe have to be, what others are waiting for, too.”

–Jia Tolentino  ( The New Yorker )

5. World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (Milkweed Editions)

11 Rave • 3 Positive

Read an excerpt from World of Wonders here

“In beautifully illustrated essays, poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes of exotic flora and fauna and her family, and why they are all of one piece … In days of old, books about nature were often as treasured for their illustrations as they were for their words. World of Wonders,  American poet and teacher Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s prose ode to her muses in the natural world, is a throwback that way. Its words are beautiful, but its cover and interior illustrations by Fumi Mini Nakamura may well be what first moves you to pick it up in a bookstore or online … The book’s magic lies in Nezhukumatathil’s ability to blend personal and natural history, to compress into each brief essay the relationship between a biographical passage from her own family and the life trajectory of a particular plant or animal … Her kaleidoscopic observations pay off in these thoughtful, nuanced, surprise-filled essays.”

–Pamela Miller  ( The Star Tribune )

WOW, NO THANK YOU by Samantha Irby

6. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (Vintage)

10 Rave • 3 Positive • 1 Mixed

Watch an interview with Samantha Irby here

“Haphazard and aimless as she claims to be, Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You  is purposefully hilarious, real, and full of medicine for living with our culture’s contradictory messages. From relationship advice she wasn’t asked for to surrendering her cell phone as dinner etiquette, Irby is wholly unpretentious as she opines about the unspoken expectations of adulting. Her essays poke holes and luxuriate in the weirdness of modern society … If anyone whose life is being made into a television show could continue to keep it real for her blog reading fans, it’s Irby. She proves we can still trust her authenticity not just through her questionable taste in music and descriptions of incredibly bloody periods, but through her willingness to demystify what happens in any privileged room she finds herself in … Irby defines professional lingo and describes the mundane details of exclusive industries in anecdotes that are not only entertaining but powerfully demystifying. Irby’s closeness to financial and physical precariousness combined with her willingness to enter situations she feels unprepared for make us loyal to her—she again proves herself to be a trustworthy and admirable narrator who readers will hold fast to through anything at all.”

–Molly Thornton  ( Lambda Literary )

7. Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing (W. W. Norton & Company)

5 Rave • 10 Positive • 3 Mixed • 1 Pan

“Yes, you’re in for a treat … There are few voices that we can reliably read widely these days, but I would read Laing writing about proverbial paint drying (the collection is in fact quite paint-heavy), just as soon as I would read her write about the Grenfell Tower fire, The Fire This Time , or a refugee’s experience in England, The Abandoned Person’s Tale , all of which are included in Funny Weather … Laing’s knowledge of her subjects is encyclopaedic, her awe is infectious, and her critical eye is reminiscent of the critic and author James Wood … She is to the art world what David Attenborough is to nature: a worthy guide with both a macro and micro vision, fluent in her chosen tongue and always full of empathy and awe.”

–Mia Colleran  ( The Irish Times )

8. Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami (Pantheon)

6 Rave • 7 Positive • 1 Mixed • 2 Pan

“A] searing look at the struggle for all Americans to achieve liberty and equality. Lalami eloquently tacks between her experiences as an immigrant to this country and the history of U.S. attempts to exclude different categories of people from the full benefits of citizenship … Lalami offers a fresh perspective on the double consciousness of the immigrant … Conditional citizenship is still conferred on people of color, women, immigrants, religious minorities, even those living in poverty, and Lalami’s insight in showing the subtle and overt ways discrimination operates in so many facets of life is one of this book’s major strengths.”

–Rachel Newcomb  ( The Washington Post )

9. This is One Way to Dance by Sejal Shah (University of Georgia Press)

7 Rave • 2 Positive 

Watch an interview with Sejal Shah here

“Shah brings important, refreshing, and depressing observations about what it means to have dark skin and an ‘exotic’ name, when the only country you’ve ever lived in is America … The essays in this slim volume are engaging and thought-provoking … The essays are well-crafted with varying forms that should inspire and enlighten other essayists … A particularly delightful chapter is the last, called ‘Voice Texting with My Mother,’ which is, in fact, written in texts … Shah’s thoughts on heritage and belonging are important and interesting.”

–Martha Anne Toll  ( NPR )

10. Having and Being Had by Eula Biss (Riverhead)

5 Rave • 4 Positive • 4 Mixed

Read Eula Biss on the anticapitalist origins of Monopoly here

“… enthralling … Her allusive blend of autobiography and criticism may remind some of The Argonauts  by Maggie Nelson, a friend whose name pops up in the text alongside those of other artists and intellectuals who have influenced her work. And yet, line for line, her epigrammatic style perhaps most recalls that of Emily Dickinson in its radical compression of images and ideas into a few chiseled lines … Biss wears her erudition lightly … she’s really funny, with a barbed but understated wit … Keenly aware of her privilege as a white, well-educated woman who has benefited from a wide network of family and friends, Biss has written a book that is, in effect, the opposite of capitalism in its willingness to acknowledge that everything she’s accomplished rests on the labor of others.”

–Ann Levin  ( Associated Press )

The Book Marks System: RAVE = 5 points • POSITIVE = 3 points • MIXED = 1 point • PAN = -5 points

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Essay Papers Writing Online

The best books to improve your essay writing skills.

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20 Must-Read Best Essay Collections of 2019

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Rebecca Hussey

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

View All posts by Rebecca Hussey

Calling all essay fans! For your reading pleasure, I’ve rounded up the best essay collections of 2019. It was a fabulous year for essays (although I say that about most years, to be honest). We’ve had some stellar anthologies of writing about disability, feminism, and the immigrant experience. We’ve had important collections about race, mental health, the environment, and media. And we’ve had collections of personal essays to entertain us and make us feel less alone. There should be something in this list for just about any reading mood or interest.

These books span the entire year, and in cases where the book isn’t published yet, I’ve given you the publication date so you can preorder it or add it to your library list.

I hope this list of the best essay collections of 2019 helps you find new books you love!

About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times , edited by Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

This book emerged from a  New York Times series of personal essays on living with a disability. Each piece was written by a person in the disabled community, and the volume contains an introduction by Andrew Solomon. The topics cover romance, shame, ambition, childbearing, parenting, aging, and much more. The authors offer a wide range of perspectives on living in a world not built for them.

Black is the Body: Stories from my Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine by Emily Bernard

Emily Bernard’s essays are about her experiences of race. She writes about life as a black woman in Vermont, her family’s history in Alabama and Nashville, her job as a professor who teaches African American literature, and her adoption of twin girls from Ethiopia. It begins with the story of a stabbing in New Haven and uses that as a springboard to write about what it means to live in a black body.

Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger , edited by Lilly Dancyger (Seal Press, October 8)

Women’s anger has been the source of some important and powerful writing lately (see Rebecca Traister’s  Good and Mad and Soraya Chemaly’s  Rage Becomes Her ). This collection brings together a diverse group of writers to further explore the subject. The book’s 22 writers include Leslie Jamison, Melissa Febos, Evette Dionne, and more.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

The Collected Schizophrenias is a collection of essays on mental and chronic illness. Wang combines research with her personal knowledge of illness to explore misconceptions about schizophrenia and disagreements in the medical community about definitions and treatments. She tells moving, honest personal stories about living with mental illness.

The Collector of Leftover Souls: Field Notes on Brazil’s Everyday Insurrections by Eliane Brum, Translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty (Graywolf, October 15)

This volume collects work from two of Brum’s books, and includes investigative pieces and profiles about Brazil and its people. She focuses on underrepresented communities such as indigenous midwives from the Amazon and people in the favelas of São Paulo. Her book captures the lives and voices of people not often written about.

Erosion: Essays of Undoing by Terry Tempest Williams (Sarah Crichton Books, October 8)

This volume collects essays written between 2016 and 2018 covering the topic she has always written so beautifully about: the natural world. The essays focus on the concept of erosion, including the erosion of land and of the self. They are her response to the often-overwhelming challenges we face in the political and the natural world.

The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America ,  edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

This volume brings together an amazing group of writers including Chigozie Obioma, Jenny Zhang, Fatimah Asghar, Alexander Chee, and many more. The essayists are first and second generation immigrants who describe their personal experiences and struggles with finding their place in the U.S. The pieces connect first-person stories with broader cultural and political issues to paint an important picture of the U.S. today.

Good Things Happen to People You Hate: Essays by Rebecca Fishbein (William Morrow, October 15)

In the tradition of Samantha Irby and Sloane Crosley, this collection is a humorous look at life’s unfairness. Fishbein writes about trouble with jobs, bedbugs, fires, and cyber bullying. She covers struggles with alcohol, depression, anxiety, and failed relationships. She is honest and hilarious both, wittily capturing experiences shared by many.

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

This book contains new and previously published essays by  New Yorker  critic Emily Nussbaum. The pieces include reviews and profiles. They also argue for a new type of criticism that can accommodate the ambition and complexity of contemporary television. She makes a case for opening art criticism up to new forms and voices.

I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi

Bassey Ikpi’s essay collection is about her personal experiences dealing with Bipolar II and anxiety. She writes about struggling with mental health even while her career as a spoken word artist was flourishing. She looks at the ways our mental health is intertwined with every aspect of our lives. It’s an honest look at identity, health, and illness.

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate (Little, Brown and Company, November 5)

These pieces are humorous, whimsical essays about things that are on Jenny Slate’s mind. As she—an actress and stand-up comedian as well as writer—describes it, “I looked into my brain and found a book. Here it is.” With a light touch, she tells us honestly what it’s like to be her and how she sees the world, one little, weird piece of it at a time.

Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays   by Leslie Jamison

Here is Jamison’s follow-up essay collection to the bestselling   Empathy Exams . This one is divided into three sections, “Longing,” “Looking,” and “Dwelling,” each with pieces that combine memoir and journalism. Her subjects include the Sri Lankan civil war, the online world Second Life, the whale 52 Blue, eloping in Las Vegas, giving birth, and many more.

My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education   by Jennine Capó Crucet

Crucet grew up in Miami, the daughter of Cuban refugees. Here she explores her family’s attempts to fit into American culture and her feeling of being a stranger in her own country. She considers her relationship to the so-called “American Dream” and what it means to live in a place that doesn’t always recognize your right to be there.

Notes to Self: Essays by Emilie Pine

Emilie Pine is an Irish writer, and this book is a bestseller in Ireland. These six personal essays touch on addiction, sexual assault, infertility, and more. She captures women’s experiences that often remain hidden. She writes about bodies and emotions from rage to grief to joy with honesty, clarity, and nuance.

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World by Zahra Hankir (Editor) and Christiane Amanpour (Foreword)

This collection gathers together 19 writers discussing their experiences as journalists working in their home countries. These women risk their lives reporting on war and face sexual harassment and difficulties traveling alone, but they also are able to talk to women and get stories their male counterpoints can’t. Their first person accounts offer new perspectives on women’s lives and current events in the Middle East.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Picking this up is a fitting way to pay tribute to the great Toni Morrison, who just passed away last summer. This book is a collection of essays, speeches, and meditations from the past four decades. Topics include the role of the artist, African Americans in American literature, the power of language, and discussions of her own work and that of other writers and artists.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

Kathleen Jamie is a poet and nature writer. These essays combine travel, memoir, and history to look at a world rapidly changing because of our warming climate. She ranges from thawing tundra in Alaska to the preserved homes of neolithic farmers in Scotland and also examines her own experiences with change as her children grow and her father dies.

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

As of this writing,  Thick  was just longlisted for a National Book Award in nonfiction. McMillan Cottom’s essays look at culture and personal experience from a sociological perspective. It’s an indispensable collection for those who want to think about race and society, who like a mix of personal and academic writing, and who want some complex, challenging ideas to chew on.

White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination   by Jess Row

White Flights is an examination of how race gets written about in American fiction, particularly by white writers creating mostly white spaces in their books. Row looks at writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and more to consider the role that whiteness has played in the American literary imagination.

The Witches Are Coming   by Lindy West (Hachette Books, November 5)

The Witches Are Coming  is Lindy West’s follow-up to her wonderful, best-selling book  Shrill .  She’s back with more of her incisive cultural critiques, writing essays on feminism and the misogyny that is (still) embedded in every part of our culture. She brings humor, wit, and much-needed clarity to the gender dynamics at play in media and culture.

There you have it—the best collections of 2019! This was a great year for essays, but so were the two years before. Check out my round-ups of the best essay collections from 2018 and 2017 .

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Summer Boarding Courses

10 Books for Essay Writing You Need To Know About


Do you have an essay writing task? Are you looking for an example of essay writing which is the absolute best? We understand how essay writing can feel very daunting at first. It can take time to research, understand the material, plan what you want to write and have the creativity and confidence to produce the work. There are some great books for essay writing to help you out!

At Summer Boarding Courses, we recommend you take the time to work through the format for essay writing step-by-step. Many of our courses, including our Creative Writing Course at  Oxford College , can help you with this.

We advise you to keep practicing. Listen to feedback from your friends and teachers. Most of all, do not give up! Soon enough you will be able to deliver excellent work.

To help you become a better writer, it’s essential to have the best instruction too. Whilst you’re waiting for our Summer Boarding Courses to start in Oxford, why not read up on our favourite books on essay writing?

Here are our Top 10 Books for Essay Writing that will have you creating unique and captivating essays for your school assignments!


Academic Writing: A Handbook for International Students  – Stephen Bailey

If you’re one of our ESL international students wanting help for essay writing at University, this is a great book to start with! We recommend reading this before you attend University in the UK as there are many an example of how to write an excellent piece inside. Many exercises are included that you can try, which is perfect for self-study in your own time.

College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay  – Ethan Sawyer

Are you applying to a College or University? Do you need to write a personal statement ( check out our personal statement guide here )?

Writing your application to enter the school you’re dreaming of may be making you feel very anxious, but college counsellor Ethan Sawyer has written a fantastic guide to help you through it. He will help you bring your personal experiences to life and show you that this application is not too scary after all.

We particularly love his advice in answering these two very important questions:

Have you experienced significant challenges in your life?

Do you know what you want to be or do in the future?

College Essay Essentials has lots of essay writing tips, tricks, exercises and real-life examples to reassure you. Good luck! You can do it!

Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation  – John Seely

If you want to produce good essay writing, you need your English Grammar to be clear and correct. At Summer Boarding Courses, we understand that English Grammar can sometimes be very confusing and unintuitive.

For a clear, simple and easy-to-understand pocket grammar book, John Seely’s Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation is extremely helpful.

Whether you are writing a professional piece, a school paper or a fun personal letter to a friend, this book will give you straightforward advice – and it’s small enough to easily fit in your rucksack!

Study with us in the UK!

Take your English writing to the next level.

How to Write an Essay in Five Easy Steps  – Inklyo

Do you need a short and easy introduction to essay writing? We recommend you start with this. It is 58 pages long, not a difficult read and covers all the basics that you need to know. The authors take you through your essay writing step-by-step and help you minimise your anxiety, even if it is the night before your project is due!

We love their recommendation about how to make your instructor happy:

‘Demonstrate that you have understood the course material and write intelligently about your subject’.

A Professor’s Guide to Writing Essays: The No-Nonsense Plan for Better Writing  – Dr. Jacob Neumann

Dr. Neumann is straight-talking. He believes that the plan for any type of essay is the same but how you approach essay writing is critical. The only thing that changes for each essay is the length and complexity of the project.

This book covers every aspect of academic writing for College, University and Secondary (High School) students. We love how simple, honest and clear his instructions are and believe you will complete your writing task much more confidently with his advice.


100 Ways to Improve Your Writing  – Gary Provost

This book may have been written in 1985, but it still a fantastic resource for the best essay writing! It does not matter if you are a student or an established successful writer. This easy-to-use guidebook will inspire you to write even better than before.

100 Ways to Improve Your Writing includes many writing examples and plenty of straightforward writing tips. It’s also easy to dip in and out of. Read through it all in one go or pick a chapter or two when you are feeling inspired!

GCSE English Writing Skills Study Guide  – CGP Books

For our younger learners aged 14 to 16, this is an excellent guide for students to refine their writing skills in essays, non-fiction, creative writing and more. There are clear, helpful exercises throughout the book for students to complete and understand the best English topics for essay writing.

The content is also written for students studying GCSE English: if you are taking this exam, you’ll have a much better chance of passing!

How to Write Better Essays (Palgrave Study Skills)  – Bryan Greetham

We all want to be confident when we are writing our essays. This step-by-step guide will help you analyse concepts, consider different arguments about a subject, and argue your ideas well. The chapters are easy to read and digest and will show you how to research ideas, take notes, write productively in exams and be engaging in your writing.

The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present  – Phillip Lopate

It is by reading other writers, that we develop our own ideas and unique style. Discover how your own writing can progress and grow through gaining an insight into other writers’ minds and lives.

The Art of the Personal Essay is an excellent collection of essays, from old to new, that are highly entertaining, creative and reflective. Make sure to have this text on your bookshelf or in your bag, so that you can take it out whenever you are seeking inspiration for your next essay. Enjoy!

The Oxford Book of Essays  – John Gross

For the ultimate essay writing book, this is the collection of work that you need to read. There are 140 essays in here by 120 writers. You will find every kind of style; from poetry and fantasy to serious arguments. Some pieces are old, others are incredibly modern. Read through the essays at your own leisure, so that your ideas about how to write gently expand alongside your imagination and creativity.

For more tips on key writing techniques, explore our selection of 100 writing prompts to give your work a persuasive flourish.

Do you feel ready to write with our recommended books for essay writing?

Essay writing is an essential skill for English students but just getting started can be difficult! You will need to think about what type of essay you are being asked to write. You will have to plan your outline in essay writing – considering the introduction, the main body of the essay, an excellent conclusion and references.

Having excellent research skills, avoiding plagiarism, and making your essay stand out from the rest of the students in your class are key things you need to know.

We hope our recommendations have inspired you and lead you to writing excellent essays in the future. Good luck and get started. We look forward to seeing you at Summer Boarding Courses in Summer, where you can receive the best writing tips from our teachers in the UK!

best essay book in english

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Vote up the absolute greatest essayists.

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Five Books for People Who Really Love Books

These five titles focus on the many connections we can form with what we read.

Stacks and stacks of books on the floor

My dad likes to fish, and he likes to read books about fishing. My mom is a birder; she reads about birds. There are plenty of books on both subjects, I’ve found, when browsing in a gift-giving mood. These presents don’t just prove I’m familiar with their interests. They’re a way to acknowledge that we read about our pastimes to affirm our identity: Fly-fishers are contemplative sorts who reflect on reflections; birders must cultivate stillness and attention. What we choose to read can be a way of saying: I am this kind of soul.

For my part, I like reading more than I like almost anything else. And so, in the manner of my parents, I like to read books about books . Writers who write about writing, readers who write about reading—these are people I instantly recognize as my kind. We’re people who are always in the middle of a chapter, who start conversations by asking, “What are you reading right now?” For us, a meta-book is like coffee brewed with more coffee. It’s extra-strength literature.

If you really love books, or you want to love them more, I have five recommendations. None of these are traditional literary criticism; they’re not dry or academic. They take all kinds of forms (essay, novel, memoir) and focus on the many connections we can form with what we read. Those relationships might be passionate, obsessive, even borderline inappropriate—and this is what makes the books so lovable. Finishing them will make you want to pick up an old favorite or add several more titles to your to-read list.

U and I

U and I , by Nicholson Baker

I can now say that I’ve been reading Baker for more than 20 years, or more than half my life. But I didn’t know that would happen when I found U and I in a college friend’s car, borrowed it, and never returned it. The subject, not the author, appealed to me then—I loved John Updike. And so did Baker, though love is probably not the right word. This book-length essay is not quite, or not merely, an appreciation of Updike; it’s a hilarious confessional “true story” of Baker’s anxieties, ambitions, competitive jealousy, and feelings of inadequacy in the face of Updike’s abundant body of work. It’s rich too, with wonderful observations on reading and writing in general, as in a passage considering how much more affecting a memoir becomes once the author is deceased: “The living are ‘just’ writing about their own lives; the dead are writing about their irretrievable lives , wow wow wow.”

A poem by John Updike: 'Half Moon, Small Cloud'

best essay book in english

Dayswork , by Chris Bachelder and Jennifer Habel

I almost prefer to keep certain books on my to-read list forever, where they remain full of magical possibility and cannot disappoint me. Moby-Dick is one of them. What if, God forbid, I chance to read it at the wrong time or in the wrong place and it doesn’t change my life? So I turn to Dayswork instead, which feels like cheating—you get some of the experience of reading Moby-Dick without any of the risk. This very novel novel, written collaboratively by a novelist and a poet who happen to be married, is sort of a sneaky biography of Herman Melville, framed by a meta-narrative about a woman writing a book during lockdown. This narrator delivers a parade of delightful facts and quotes and anecdotes, which she’s been collecting on sticky notes. You could think of it also as a biography of Melville’s most famous novel, which has had its own life after his death and touched so many other lives. Dayswork is fragmentary, digressive, and completely absorbing.

Read: The endless depths of Moby-Dick symbolism

best essay book in english

Written Lives , by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Marías is one of my favorite novelists, but I only recently encountered this work, a collection of short, dubiously nonfictional biographies in a very specific style. In the prologue, Marías explains that he had edited an anthology of stories by writers so obscure, he was forced to compose their biographical notes using odd, scanty evidence that made it all sound “invented.” It occurred to him that he could do the same thing for authors much more famous (Henry James, Thomas Mann, Djuna Barnes), treating “well-known literary figures as if they were fictional characters, which may well be how all writers, whether famous or obscure, would secretly like to be treated,” he explains. The result is marvelously irreverent, packed with unforgettable details (Rilke, supposedly, loved the letter y and used any excuse to write it) and endearing patterns (Marías would have us believe that many writers loathe Dostoyevsky). Written Lives immediately earned a spot on my shelf of most treasured objects, and every friend I’ve recommended it to has been equally enchanted.

Read: An introverted writer’s lament

best essay book in english

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life , by Yiyun Li

This sad and incredibly beautiful memoir from a writer best known for her fiction takes its title from a line in a notebook by the New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield. For Li, correspondence, diaries and journals, and literature in general are forms of consolation and companionship that make life worth living even in times of overwhelming despair. The memoir is a record of the reading experiences that saved Li from a dangerous depression. It made me want to dig more deeply into the work of all her favorite writers—Thomas Hardy, Ivan Turgenev, Elizabeth Bowen, William Trevor—because she describes them so warmly and affectionately, as if they were friends. Here, as in her novels, Li is philosophical, with a gift for startling aphorisms: “Harder to endure than fresh pain is pain that has already been endured,” she writes. And “One always knows how best to sabotage one’s own life,” or “What does not make sense is what matters.” Li’s work is so moving and so very wise.

best essay book in english

Madness, Rack, and Honey , by Mary Ruefle

The American poet Mary Ruefle is one of those writers people like to call a “national treasure,” which always has to do with something beyond brilliance or talent, an additional spectacular charm that makes you wish you knew them in “real life.” This collection of lectures on poetry and topics adjacent to poetry (sentimentality, theme, the moon) is the perfect introduction to Ruefle’s particular charisma. She’s unabashedly devoted to poets and poems, but you don’t have to love poetry to fall in love with her voice. She’s plainspoken yet mysterious, always asking curious questions, about death and fear and secrets, and then answering herself with surprising authority. Ruefle is inclined toward quirky asides, but all roads lead back to books: “I offer my dinner guest, after dinner, the choice between regular and decaf coffee, when in fact I don’t have any decaf in the house,” she writes. “I am so sincere in my effort to be a good host that I lie; I think this probably happens all the time in poetry.” Ruefle offers a beautiful example of how a life filled with reading opens and alters the mind.

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7 New Books We Recommend This Week

Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

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Today is the first day of summer, and what better time to read a handful of books about adventures — or misadventures? Our recommended titles this week include Kevin Fedarko’s “A Walk in the Park,” his good-natured romp about encountering bad nature on a trek through the Grand Canyon, along with David Nicholls’s novel about a happier hiking trip, Nicholas Kristof’s memoir of life as a roving reporter and Kassia St. Clair’s look at an epic intercontinental car race in the early days of the automobile. (You can’t even call it a road race, because along much of the route roads were nonexistent.)

On a more sober note, we also recommend Kim A. Wagner’s meticulously researched history of a forgotten military atrocity and Steven Johnson’s reconstruction of an era when anarchists and police forces duked it out in a battle of wits (and dynamite). In fiction, don’t miss Morgan Talty’s rich debut novel, “Fire Exit,” about a man exiled from the only land and culture he has ever known. Happy solstice, and happy reading. — Gregory Cowles

A WALK IN THE PARK: The True Story of a Spectacular Misadventure in the Grand Canyon Kevin Fedarko

Two friends — the adventure writer Fedarko and the photographer Pete McBride — decide to walk the length of the Grand Canyon. What could go wrong? As this wildly entertaining book demonstrates, everything you can imagine, and then some. Fedarko takes us for a ride that’s often harrowing, frequently hilarious and, always, full of wonderful nature writing.

best essay book in english

“Fedarko doesn’t describe awe; he induces it, with page-turning action, startling insights and the kind of verbal grace that makes multipage descriptions of, say, a flock of pelicans feel riveting and new.”

From Blair Braverman’s review

Scribner | $32.50

THE INFERNAL MACHINE: A True Story of Dynamite, Terror, and the Rise of the Modern Detective Steven Johnson

From the 1880s to, roughly, 1920, anarchists were considered America’s greatest terror threat. And in telling the stories of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Peter Kropotkin and the policemen who pursued them, Johnson makes it clear that his real protagonist is dynamite itself. While this functions as a lively history of an era in its own right, it’s also a timely meditation on the nature of violence, protest and American society.

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Best of The New York Review, plus books, events, and other items of interest

July 18, 2024

Current Issue

The Tuning Fork in the Ear

June 25, 2024

Mara Corsino

In a series of conversations with Merve Emre at Wesleyan University, some of today’s sharpest working critics discuss their careers and methodology, and are then asked to close-read a text that they haven’t seen before. The Review is collaborating with Lit Hub to publish transcripts and recordings of these interviews, which across eleven episodes will offer an extensive look into the process of criticism.

While I hesitate to use the word “delicious” to describe anything other than food, Carina del Valle Schorske writes delicious essays. One in particular, which won a 2021 National Magazine Award, is about Covid-19 grief and postapocalyptic dance floors . “In Plato’s ‘Protagoras,’ Socrates argues that dancing girls have no place in philosophical gatherings,” she writes. She proceeds to prove Socrates wrong by weaving together social dancing, journalism, and a philosophy of visibility. Another essay, a profile of the rapper and singer Bad Bunny that appeared in both English and Spanish, does what the ideal profile should do: situates an enigmatic, alluring, and successful cultural figure in a particular time, place, genre, and language. It provides us with not only an account of a person, but a panoramic view of history.

Carina received her Ph.D. in English and comparative literature from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The Believer , The Point , Virginia Quarterly Review , and The New York Times Magazine , where she is a contributing writer, and she is currently at work on her debut collection of essays, The Other Island . 

Most people in this audience are college students. How do you get from where they are to where you are now?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. I do come from a family with where there’s a precedent for higher education. My father’s father was a professor. But on the other side, my mother’s mother was a singer on Puerto Rican radio before she migrated and worked regular blue-collar jobs her whole life. My mom was a performer in the Nuyorican scene when she was young. During my childhood, I had a sense of the value of artistic and intellectual life.

It was interesting being raised by New York and New Jersey people in the Bay Area. There weren’t really Puerto Ricans or Caribbean people there. The Jewish people were not the same as the Jewish people on the East Coast. So there was a certain sense of cultural dislocation, even though my parents both had strong leftist sensibilities and I was very aware of the Bay Area as the hotbed of a certain kind of radicalism—Black Panthers, César Chavez, ethnic studies—alongside the hippie spiritual stuff going on in my family. I went to Yale on full financial aid. In many ways, it was edifying, and, in many ways, it was very scary.

Why did you find college frightening?

I would say that I arrived in college already exhausted by the class conflicts and pressures of private school, where the fiction that I “deserved” to be there concealed the threat that I must continue deserving, must manifest my gratitude. And at Yale all of that was even more intense; I could see the gears of power turning. I was supposed to be in the Directed Studies program, which is a Great Books curriculum for freshmen who show promise in the humanities. It bothered me that the definition of rigor was submission to this list of European texts that hadn’t changed much since the nineteenth century. So I bailed: I took seminars on Orientalism, on Caribbean intellectuals. Hazel Carby was a big influence—my mom had books by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison at home, but she was my official gateway into Black feminism. Both of my majors, Literature and Ethnicity, Race & Migration, were global and interdisciplinary. Some might argue that I had no disciplinary training over the course of my whole academic career. But I feel grateful for the education that I ended up getting. It forced me to make connections and analogies.

I studied poetry. I wanted to be a poet, but I never quite figured out how to make my poetry accommodate the political and historical questions that seemed urgent to me. I was also interested in a form of writing that could possibly support me as a career. I loved essays. But I graduated into that very difficult economy after the 2008 crash. At that point all the magazine internships were still unpaid. The editorial assistant gigs in New York or D.C. paid $17,000 or $25,000 a year. I wasn’t able to take those jobs even though I was credentialed appropriately. My boyfriend at the time lived in Boston. He was getting a Ph.D. at MIT and he said, “Come live with me for six months and look for a job.”

I thought I wanted to work at Harvard’s Hiphop Archive. I sent them a review I’d written of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III . They weren’t hiring, but I had a conversation with the director, Marcy Morgan. She connected me to the editors of Transition , a magazine of decolonial politics and culture that was founded in Uganda in 1961 by Rajat Neogy. In the 1990s, it was revived by Henry Louis Gates and Anthony Appiah. Transition published a lot of interesting experimental work over the years: Bessie Head, V.S. Naipaul, Chinua Achebe, Paul Theroux, interviews with Caetano Veloso and Julie Dash. When I was there, I worked with lots of amazing writers including Zinzi Clemmons and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. It was so understaffed, and it didn’t pay much more than those other jobs, but because I was living with my boyfriend, the salary was feasible. On the side, I did some freelance editing and research for a psychoanalyst.

You applied to graduate school while working at the magazine?

That’s right. I started at Columbia five years after I graduated from college. It was also a strategic choice because it seemed like the most financially viable option—benefits, six years of funding, and guaranteed housing for six years in Manhattan, not far from my grandmother’s place in Washington Heights. I started the Ph.D. knowing that being a traditional scholar probably wasn’t a good match for me, but it seemed like the most capacious option for being intellectually self-directed and having time to figure out how I wanted to write. I started publishing during my second year in the program, using some of the materials that I was being introduced to in classes. I wanted to write about what I was reading—D.W. Winnicott, Clarice Lispector, Gwendolyn Brooks—in a voice for the public. My adviser, Saidiya Hartman, saw that I was yearning for a more intense, intimate, populist mode of engagement and sort of gave me her blessing. I started with little magazines like The Point , Boston Review , and Lit Hub. Because I wasn’t relying on those publications for money, I could afford to pursue my own subjects and style.

Almost every one of my guests has either an M.A. or a Ph.D., and has decided, for whatever reason, to take their talents somewhere other than the university. When you knew that you weren’t interested in being a traditional scholar, what kinds of things were you looking for in your education and how might you link that education to the essays that you’ve written—for instance, the essay on postapocalyptic dance floors?

That’s a great question because you wouldn’t think the links are very direct with that essay. But the stuff about Katherine Dunham really came from my oral exams. Katherine Dunham was a dancer, choreographer, scholar, pedagogue, and activist. I was very much inspired by the people I was reading, figures from the middle of the twentieth century like Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Deren, and the Cuban anthropologist Lydia Cabrera. They had relationships to academic institutions, but their interventions were radical and experimental. They were in precarious economic or social positions and were trying to piece together viable careers, to get in where they could fit in. I was supposed to be working on them but I felt more like I wanted to work with them. 

It’s interesting that you brought up the midcentury anthropologists. When I read your pieces, I think of a roving, immersive, ethnographic writer who is, for instance, getting drunk with Bad Bunny and analyzing it afterward. I wonder if you could talk about how you position yourself as both a witness and an experiential subject in the essays that you write.

The phrase “participant observer” was helpful to me. The other thing I admire about anthropology, even with its colonial legacy—or in reaction to the colonial legacy—is the idea of writing a position paper. I don’t mean that in the legislative sense, but anthropologists are asked to account for their positionality in relation to what they’re writing about. I don’t think you need to make that the focus of every piece of criticism that you write, but I think that all writers should be taking stock of where their investment comes from. When I’m teaching, I like to present my students with a Gramsci line from his Prison Notebooks that Edward Said quotes in Orientalism : “The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” Then he says you have to make that inventory. So it’s about reflexivity, but it’s also about the pleasure of participation and the rewards of intimacy. I know I’m never outside or above the situation I’m trying to describe, and I don’t aspire to be.

So, on the one hand, you’re trying to convey the politics of participation, and on the other hand, the pleasure of participation. There are different ways to make that inventory, and there is perhaps nothing as cringe-worthy as reading a piece in which a subject is strenuously trying to account for their own positionality and doing it in a way that feels either apologetic or insincere.

Or secretly self-aggrandizing. Like they feel obligated to say, Look how terribly privileged I am! And then they move on without letting that alter their analysis at all. It’s annoying.

How do you make sure your writing stays sensitive and reflexive in an intellectually robust way without being—I will use the word again—cringe?

You have to think about what’s relevant to the story. Not every element of your biography is relevant. To me it’s so much about tone. Margo Jefferson always talks about that. Not to draw a parallel with pornography, but you know it when you hear it. Does the tone sound sincere? Does it sound artificial? I feel like there’s a tuning fork inside my ear that helps me figure it out, which may not be a super cerebral answer to your question.

I will get back to the question of tone. In a sense, it’s a little unfortunate that you brought it up now because it would’ve been a nice pivot to the object that I’m going to give you. But I have one question to ask before we get to the object. The ways that you act as a participant observer are tremendously expansive. You engage with multiple people, sites, objects, and histories, all layered onto one another. Perhaps the most striking calibration that you attempt in these essays is between the history of individuals and the history of Puerto Rico. C ould you talk a little bit about your national or international, or transnational—whichever word you want to use—commitments?

The world comes to us in a tremendously complex tangle. The norms of contemporary journalism—maybe just journalism, period—insist on the present in a way that is flattening and not true to the thickness of time. In general, and definitely in the US, we are discouraged from historical thinking. Even in terms of what’s going on right now, in Israel and Palestine, you hear people say that referring to the occupation or anything that preceded October 7 is a distraction from the present. That attitude is not going to help us understand the violence of our world order. And it won’t help us transform it. I would say the same about nationalism. It’s not explanatory, and we miss so much if we insist on framing things that way. I come from self-consciously diasporic communities, but even if I didn’t, I hope I would still have enough sense to keep my moral focus on people rather than states.

In terms of Puerto Rico in particular, I know that you’re referencing the Bad Bunny profile, and, to a lesser extent, the dance essay, which does feature many Nuyoricans because we’ve always been creative drivers in the city’s music and dance scenes: mambo, salsa, hustle, hip-hop. With the profile, the fact-checkers wouldn’t let me use the word “nation” or “country” to write about Puerto Rico, even though Bad Bunny himself had used the word “país,” because that’s not Puerto Rico’s official political status. I ended up translating “país” as “homeland,” because another word that Puerto Ricans often use is “patria,” which is more like “fatherland.” I thought “homeland” kind of threaded the needle. But that’s an example of how seemingly small stylistic questions can be fraught with political conflict in American publications.

It’s not like I want to include Puerto Rican History 101 in every essay that I write. In fact, I find that work very thankless and frustrating and annoying. I want readers to have the tools to understand the meaning of a figure like Bad Bunny, but I don’t want to privilege the hypothetical “mainstream” readers who don’t have that context over the readers who do. I think it’s okay—good, actually!—for there to be some friction, some mystery. You said “layered” and that’s what I strive for.

I want to go back to what you said about having a tuning fork in your ear. I do not think of myself as a good listener of music. I’m good at listening to other people, I think, but I’m not a good listener of music, and I don’t even know what I mean when I say that exactly. I’m wondering if you could help us listen to something. I’ve previously given people texts to read or photographs to look at, but I was hoping that you could help us figure out how to listen to an object with an eye to making exactly the kind of argument that you have been detailing.

Do you recognize the object?

It’s “Yo Perreo Sola” by Bad Bunny—the lead single of the album that was out when I interviewed him, YHLQMDLG . It wasn’t my favorite track.

How does one begin to listen? I realize this is difficult because unlike having a text in front of you, the experience is over.

The first thing that I’m registering, always, is how the music makes me feel in my body. And this is a dance song.

That is already an interesting genre distinction to me. In our house, there are only two kinds of songs: there are jams and there are bangers. But you have a different kind of generic setup in your mind?

Yes. I’m interested in this typology of genre. It’s a dance song if I want to dance to it, which is maybe a simple definition. But this song is also making a claim about dance. The chorus is about “perreo”—twerking is not a perfect analogy, because “perreo” turns the word “dog” into the verb “perrear.” In the classical vision, the woman is maybe pinning the man to the wall with her butt. But on this song there’s a woman’s voice saying, “I do this by myself. I don’t need you.”

The genre judgement also has to do with a musical genealogy. When I first heard the song, with its quasi-feminist message, I immediately thought of “Yo Quiero Bailar” by Ivy Queen. Ivy Queen’s from the previous generation, sort of the Celia Cruz of reggaeton—the only girl who got any respect in that boys’ club. With “Yo Quiero Bailar,” she’s talking about how the kind of erotic movement that might happen on a Caribbean dance floor does not automatically imply consent for activities elsewhere. She wants to grind, she wants to sweat, but that doesn’t mean she wants to fuck. So for me, the message of “Yo Perreo Sola” feels derivative. And the sonics don’t make up for that.

On the one hand, you draw a distinction between what you feel like the song makes you want to do—the affective or embodied response to it—and, on the other hand, hearing the beats that plug the song into a whole history of genre. All you need to hear is the title of the song repeated to extract that generic history. Then, you can make a judgment. Is that all happening at the same time or is it sequential?

I always try to notice what my first reactions are, but I don’t privilege them too much, because music is a repetitive form. I guess these days you can “repeat” most anything. But with music, I think there’s an invitation to repeat. I’m interested in how my thoughts and feelings continue to evolve through multiple listens.

When I was getting my Ph.D., I taught freshman comp, and I would sometimes tell my students, “Feeling is thinking and thinking is feeling.” What I mean by “feeling is thinking” is that feelings are a useful starting point for understanding: you notice your feelings and then there’s an opportunity to step back and try to analyze where they’re coming from. Like, why am I angry? Why am I bored? And then “thinking is feeling”: when you experience yourself making a rational claim or critical judgment, you should inquire into the emotions that might be lurking under the surface of “thought.”

How do you land on the feeling or thought that this is a boring dance song? You offered a conceptual justification: It’s already been done, and the quasi-feminist message of it is not new. But when I think of a boring dance song, it’s one that makes me not want to dance.

Totally. It’s just as much rooted in my body as it is in a discourse analysis of the song’s freshness. I find the beat on “Yo Perreo Sola” a little frantic, and I don’t like the EDM escalation around the chorus. My sweet spot for dancing is more mid-tempo. And I prefer songs where you get a bunch of different beat switches, a super mix like “Safaera.” Those kinds of songs call back to salsa classics that are rooted in jazz and other Black improvisational traditions where there are long percussion breaks and polyrhythms.

But there’s still some pleasure for me in “Yo Perreo Sola.” It really developed another meaning in quarantine: the song came out in the summer of 2020, when we were all at home dancing on our own. There was something fun about that.

We haven’t really talked about the words. You’ve talked about the beat, the rhythm, and the callback to other songs in the same genre or subgenre. Where do lyrics come in? I have a recurring argument with my husband who hears rhythm first and doesn’t pay any attention to lyrics. I often only hear lyrics, and I’m quite dismissive based on lyrics and lyrics alone. Do you pay attention to lyrics in the same way you pay attention to words as a translation?

That’s funny, I have a similar conflict with my mother. She’s like, “You’re always paying attention to lyrics!” I don’t think that’s true exclusively, but listening to lyrics definitely made me want to be a writer. I was the kind of teenager that was always on those websites learning the words. But my dad listened to a lot of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. My mom listened to a lot of poetic Latin American singers. I came of age during the mainstreaming of rap as popular music. The voice is one of the instruments and the delivery of the words is one of the instruments. Words are rhythm. So to me, the distinction between words and music doesn’t feel tenable. I’ve always had the strong sense that words, music, and movement emerge together. We’ve disaggregated them in our society, but that’s not how it has to be.

I think a lot about rhythm, delivery, and tone in my own writing, especially when I’m writing about music. I’m allowing the object to influence the way that I’m expressing myself. One of the ways that I can show a reader what I’m writing about is by absorbing and performing some element of it.

Do you try to match your prose to, for instance, the rhythm of a lyric when you’re embedding it in a sentence? Are you trying to imitate or to perform what you’ve absorbed?

I did with the Bad Bunny story. I wanted to be funny. I wanted to be irreverent. I wanted to be slick and sticky. Or when I’m writing about a live performance of Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin singing “Ooh Baby Baby” on Soul Train, I want to take on a wistful legato. I want my structure and my sentences to have some of the tender lucidity that I feel there.

Since people can’t have the experience of listening to the music itself, the prose needs to approximate what you would judge its style to be like?

Exactly. There’s a line that people repeat when they want to describe the supposed difficulty of music writing: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” That’s crazy to me, because dancing is about architecture. Dancing is about space. It’s about how we navigate public space and our bodies in relation to one another. Dancing is already about architecture, and writing is about music because words are already a musical phenomenon. It’s not such a big leap to make the connection.

Part of the great joy of listening to music is listening to it with other people. I don’t get as much pleasure listening to something by myself as I do when I listen to something with my kids or my husband, or when I go to a concert. Listening with strangers is its own form of pleasure. How do you think about bringing other people’s experiences into the mix? Surely part of what’s happening when you’re listening in public is that your body is reacting to other bodies, reacting to the music?

I would argue that music is an inherently communal form even when you’re alone—or certainly when I’m alone. I’m thinking about all the other people it’s touched by the time it reaches me. I like to try to find ways to formalize that curiosity. In a profile, I like to look beyond the individual that our neoliberal media system has selected to be the hero. I’m more interested in how and why we collectively made them the hero. And in all my stories, it’s also about the interview practice, about refusing or reaching beyond traditional notions of expertise. Like, your average twentysomething in Puerto Rico has a richer sense of what Bad Bunny means than some musicologist.

When I’m listening to music or writing about a particular piece of music, I’m really trying to listen for how other people listen. If I hear a snatch of music coming from a car on my block, I like to see who’s driving. If I hear something out in public, how are other people reacting? If I’m on Twitter, I’m reading what people are saying about a new album drop. I think it’s fair to say that music is our most popular art form. That’s part of its value. Besides the supreme pleasure that I personally derive. Besides my wish that I could sing or play piano or play guiro. But I can’t. So, here we are.

An axis along which critics arrange themselves is the axis of authority that has, on its one end, the centralization of authority, and on the other, the active seeking or embrace of plurality. Another way to think of it might be as the difference between a centripetal and a centrifugal force in criticism. Have you always sought out that plurality of view? Does it change based on what your object is or where you are in your career as a critic? Were there more anxieties about being an authority figure, having just one voice, one view, one relation of experience?

In general, I’m not interested in a kind of criticism where people retweet it and say, “This is the last word on X or Y. Mic drop.” I’ve never been interested in those kinds of proprietary claims. I’m interested in a form of criticism that really opens up other desires, associations, lines of inquiry—because to me, an object is never exhausted, no matter how many people write about it. But there’s also so much where the idea of authority or expertise barely comes up because critics haven’t seen those objects as worthy of analysis. That’s my sweet spot.

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Carina del Valle Schorske is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine . She is at work on her debut collection of essays, The Other Island . (June 2024)

Merve Emre is the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing and Criticism and the Director of the Shapiro Center at Wesleyan. She is the host of The Critic and Her Publics , a new podcast series produced in partnership with The New York Review and Lit Hub. (April 2024)

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Fall 2024 Semester

Undergraduate courses.

Composition courses that offer many sections (ENGL 101, 201, 277 and 379) are not listed on this schedule unless they are tailored to specific thematic content or particularly appropriate for specific programs and majors.

  • 100-200 level

ENGL 151.S01: Introduction to English Studies

Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Sharon Smith

ENGL 151 serves as an introduction to both the English major and the discipline of English studies. In this class, you will develop the thinking, reading, writing and research practices that define both the major and the discipline. Much of the semester will be devoted to honing your literary analysis skills, and we will study and discuss texts from several different genres—poetry, short fiction, the novel, drama and film—as well as some literary criticism. As we do so, we will explore the language of the discipline, and you will learn a variety of key literary terms and concepts. In addition, you will develop your skills as both a writer and researcher within the discipline of English.

ENGL 201.ST1 Composition II: The Mind/Body Connection

In this section of English 201, students will use research and writing to learn more about problems that are important to them and articulate ways to address those problems. The course will focus specifically on issues related to the mind, the body and the relationship between them. The topics we will discuss during the course will include the correlation between social media and body image; the efficacy of sex education programs; the degree to which beliefs about race and gender influence school dress codes; and the unique mental and physical challenges faced by college students today. In this course, you will be learning about different approaches to argumentation, analyzing the arguments of others and constructing your own arguments. At the same time, you will be honing your skills as a researcher and developing your abilities as a persuasive and effective writer.

ENGL 201.S10 Composition II: Environmental Writing   

Monday/Wednesday/Friday 1-1:50 p.m.

Gwen Horsley

English 201 will help students develop the ability to think critically and analytically and to write effectively for other university courses and careers. This course will provide opportunities to develop analytical skills that will help students become critical readers and effective writers. Specifically, in this class, students will:

  • Focus on the relationships between world environments, land, animals and humankind.
  • Read various essays by environmental, conservational and regional authors.
  • Produce student writings. 

Students will improve their writing skills by reading essays and applying techniques they witness in others’ work and those learned in class. This class is also a course in logical and creative thought. Students will write about humankind’s place in the world and our influence on the land and animals, places that hold special meaning to them or have influenced their lives and stories of their own families and their places and passions in the world. Students will practice writing in an informed and persuasive manner, in language that engages and enlivens readers by using vivid verbs and avoiding unnecessary passives, nominalizations and expletive constructions.

Students will prepare writing assignments based on readings and discussions of essays included in "Literature and the Environment " and other sources. They may use "The St. Martin’s Handbook," as well as other sources, to review grammar, punctuation, mechanics and usage as needed.

ENGL 201.13 Composition II: Writing the Environment

Tuesday and Thursday 9:30-10:45 a.m.

Paul Baggett

For generations, environmentalists have relied on the power of prose to change the minds and habits of their contemporaries. In the wake of fires, floods, storms and droughts, environmental writing has gained a new sense of urgency, with authors joining activists in their efforts to educate the public about the grim realities of climate change. But do they make a difference? Have reports of present and future disasters so saturated our airwaves that we no longer hear them? How do writers make us care about the planet amidst all the noise? In this course, students will examine the various rhetorical strategies employed by some of today’s leading environmental writers and filmmakers. And while analyzing their different arguments, students also will strengthen their own strategies of argumentation as they research and develop essays that explore a range of environmental concerns.

ENGL 201 Composition II: Food Writing

S17 Tuesday and Thursday 12:30-1:45 p.m.

S18 Tuesday and Thursday 2-3:15 p.m.

Jodi Andrews

In this composition class, students will critically analyze essays about food, food systems and environments, food cultures, the intersections of personal choice, market forces and policy and the values underneath these forces. Students will learn to better read like writers, noting authors’ purpose, audience organizational moves, sentence-level punctuation and diction. We will read a variety of essays including research-intensive arguments and personal narratives which intersect with one of our most primal needs as humans: food consumption. Students will rhetorically analyze texts, conduct advanced research, reflect on the writing process and write essays utilizing intentional rhetorical strategies. Through doing this work, students will practice the writing moves valued in every discipline: argument, evidence, concision, engaging prose and the essential research skills for the 21st century.

ENGL 221.S01 British Literature I

Michael S. Nagy

English 221 is a survey of early British literature from its inception in the Old English period with works such as "Beowulf" and the “Battle of Maldon,” through the Middle Ages and the incomparable writings of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Gawain - poet, to the Renaissance and beyond. Students will explore the historical and cultural contexts in which all assigned reading materials were written, and they will bring that information to bear on class discussion. Likely themes that this class will cover include heroism, humor, honor, religion, heresy and moral relativity. Students will write one research paper in this class and sit for two formal exams: a midterm covering everything up to that point in the semester, and a comprehensive final. Probable texts include the following:

  • The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages. Ed. Alfred David, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
  • The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century and Early Seventeenth Century. Ed. George M. Logan, Stephen Greenblatt, Barbara K Lewalski, and M. H. Abrams. 9th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
  • The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. Ed. George M. Logan, Stephen Greenblatt, Barbara K Lewalski, and M. H. Abrams. 9th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
  • Gibaldi, Joseph. The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2003.
  • Any Standard College Dictionary.

ENGL 240.S01 Juvenile Literature Elementary-5th Grade

Monday, Wednesday and Friday noon-12:50 p.m.

April Myrick

A survey of the history of literature written for children and adolescents, and a consideration of the various types of juvenile literature. Text selection will focus on the themes of imagination and breaking boundaries.

ENGL 240.ST1 Juvenile Literature Elementary-5th Grade

Randi Anderson

In English 240 students will develop the skills to interpret and evaluate various genres of literature for juvenile readers. This particular section will focus on various works of literature at approximately the K-5 grade level. We will read a large range of works that fall into this category, as well as information on the history, development and genre of juvenile literature.

Readings for this course include classical works such as "Hatchet," "Little Women", "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Brown Girl Dreaming," as well as newer works like "Storm in the Barn," "Anne Frank’s Diary: A Graphic Adaptation," "Lumberjanes," and a variety of picture books. These readings will be paired with chapters from "Reading Children’s Literature: A Critical Introduction " to help develop understanding of various genres, themes and concepts that are both related to juvenile literature and also present in our readings.

In addition to exposing students to various genres of writing (poetry, historical fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, picture books, graphic novels, etc.) this course will also allow students to engage in a discussion of larger themes present in these works such as censorship, race and gender. Students’ understanding of these works and concepts will be developed through readings, research, discussion posts, exams and writing assignments designed to get students to practice analyzing poetry, picture books, informational books and transitional/easy readers.

ENGL 241.S01: American Literature I

Tuesday and Thursday 12:30-1:45 p.m.

This course provides a broad, historical survey of American literature from the early colonial period to the Civil War. Ranging across historical periods and literary genres—including early accounts of contact and discovery, narratives of captivity and slavery, poetry of revolution, essays on gender equality and stories of industrial exploitation—this class examines how subjects such as colonialism, nationhood, religion, slavery, westward expansion, race, gender and democracy continue to influence how Americans see themselves and their society.

Required Texts

  • The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Package 1, Volumes A and B Beginnings to 1865, Ninth Edition. (ISBN 978-0-393-26454-8)

ENGL 283.S01 Introduction to Creative Writing

Steven Wingate

Students will explore the various forms of creative writing (fiction, nonfiction and poetry) not one at a time in a survey format—as if there were decisive walls of separation between then—but as intensely related genres that share much of their creative DNA. Through close reading and work on personal texts, students will address the decisions that writers in any genre must face on voice, rhetorical position, relationship to audience, etc. Students will produce and revise portfolios of original creative work developed from prompts and research. This course fulfills the same SGR #2 requirements ENGL 201; note that the course will involve a research project. Successful completion of ENGL 101 (including by test or dual credit) is a prerequisite.

ENGL 283.S02 Introduction to Creative Writing

Jodilyn Andrews

This course introduces students to the craft of writing, with readings and practice in at least two genres (including fiction, poetry and drama).

ENGL 283.ST1 Introduction to Creative Writing

Amber Jensen, M.A., M.F.A.

This course explores creative writing as a way of encountering the world, research as a component of the creative writing process, elements of craft and their rhetorical effect and drafting, workshop and revision as integral parts of writing polished literary creative work. Student writers will engage in the research practices that inform the writing of literature and in the composing strategies and writing process writers use to create literary texts. Through their reading and writing of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction, students will learn about craft elements, find examples of those craft elements in published works and apply these elements in their own creative work, developed through weekly writing activities, small group and large group workshop and conferences with the instructor. Work will be submitted, along with a learning reflection and revision plan in each genre and will then be revised and submitted as a final portfolio at the end of the semester to demonstrate continued growth in the creation of polished literary writing.

  • 300-400 level

ENGL 424.S01 Language Arts Methods grades 7-12  

Tuesday 6-8:50 p.m.

Danielle Harms

Techniques, materials and resources for teaching English language and literature to middle and secondary school students. Required of students in the English education option.

AIS/ENGL 447.S01: American Indian Literature of the Present 

Thursdays 3-6 p.m.

This course introduces students to contemporary works by authors from various Indigenous nations. Students examine these works to enhance their historical understanding of Indigenous peoples, discover the variety of literary forms used by those who identify as Indigenous writers, and consider the cultural and political significance of these varieties of expression. Topics and questions to be explored include:

  • Genre: What makes Indigenous literature indigenous?
  • Political and Cultural Sovereignty: Why have an emphasis on tribal specificity and calls for “literary separatism” emerged in recent decades, and what are some of the critical conversations surrounding such particularized perspectives?
  • Gender and Sexuality: What are the intersecting concerns of Indigenous Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and how might these research fields inform one another?
  • Trans-Indigeneity: What might we learn by comparing works across different Indigenous traditions, and what challenges do such comparisons present?
  • Aesthetics: How do Indigenous writers understand the dynamics between tradition and creativity?
  • Visual Forms: What questions or concerns do visual representations (television and film) by or about Indigenous peoples present?

Possible Texts

  • Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri and Josie Douglas (eds), Skins: Contemporary Indigenous Writing. IAD Press, 2000. (978-1864650327)
  • Erdrich, Louise, The Sentence. Harper, 2021 (978-0062671127)
  • Harjo, Joy, Poet Warrior: A Memoir. Norton, 2021 (978-0393248524)
  • Harjo, Sterlin and Taika Waititi, Reservation Dogs (selected episodes)
  • Talty, Morgan. Night of the Living Rez, 2022, Tin House (978-1953534187)
  • Wall Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweet Grass, Milkweed Editions (978-1571313560)
  • Wilson, Diane. The Seed Keeper: A Novel. Milkweed Editions (978-1571311375)
  • Critical essays by Alexie, Allen, Cohen, Cox, King, Kroeber, Ortiz, Piatote, Ross and Sexton, Smith, Taylor, Teuton, Treuer, Vizenor, and Womack.

ENGL 472.S01: Film Criticism

Tuesdays 2-4:50 p.m.

Jason McEntee

Do you have an appreciation for, and enjoy watching, movies? Do you want to study movies in a genre-oriented format (such as those we typically call the Western, the screwball comedy, the science fiction or the crime/gangster, to name a few)? Do you want to explore the different critical approaches for talking and writing about movies (such as auteur, feminist, genre or reception)?

In this class, you will examine movies through viewing and defining different genres while, at the same time, studying and utilizing different styles of film criticism. You will share your discoveries in both class discussions and short writings. The final project will be a formal written piece of film criticism based on our work throughout the semester. The course satisfies requirements and electives for all English majors and minors, including both the Film Studies and Professional Writing minors. (Note: Viewing of movies outside of class required and may require rental and/or streaming service fees.)

ENGL 476.ST1: Fiction

In this workshop-based creative writing course, students will develop original fiction based on strong attention to the fundamentals of literary storytelling: full-bodied characters, robust story lines, palpable environments and unique voices. We will pay particular attention to process awareness, to the integrity of the sentence, and to authors' commitments to their characters and the places in which their stories unfold. Some workshop experience is helpful, as student peer critique will be an important element of the class.

ENGL 479.01 Capstone: The Gothic

Wednesday 3-5:50 p.m.

With the publication of Horace Walpole’s "The Castle of Otranto " in 1764, the Gothic officially came into being. Dark tales of physical violence and psychological terror, the Gothic incorporates elements such as distressed heroes and heroines pursued by tyrannical villains; gloomy estates with dark corridors, secret passageways and mysterious chambers; haunting dreams, troubling prophecies and disturbing premonitions; abduction, imprisonment and murder; and a varied assortment of corpses, apparitions and “monsters.” In this course, we will trace the development of Gothic literature—and some film—from the eighteenth-century to the present time. As we do so, we will consider how the Gothic engages philosophical beliefs about the beautiful and sublime; shapes psychological understandings of human beings’ encounters with horror, terror, the fantastic and the uncanny; and intervenes in the social and historical contexts in which it was written. We’ll consider, for example, how the Gothic undermines ideals related to domesticity and marriage through representations of domestic abuse, toxicity and gaslighting. In addition, we’ll discuss Gothic texts that center the injustices of slavery and racism. As many Gothic texts suggest, the true horrors of human existence often have less to do with inexplicable supernatural phenomena than with the realities of the world in which we live. 

ENGL 485.S01: Undergraduate Writing Center Learning Assistants 

Flexible Scheduling

Nathan Serfling

Since their beginnings in the 1920s and 30s, writing centers have come to serve numerous functions: as hubs for writing across the curriculum initiatives, sites to develop and deliver workshops and resource centers for faculty as well as students, among other functions. But the primary function of writing centers has necessarily and rightfully remained the tutoring of student writers. This course will immerse you in that function in two parts. During the first four weeks, you will explore writing center praxis—that is, the dialogic interplay of theory and practice related to writing center work. This part of the course will orient you to writing center history, key theoretical tenets and practical aspects of writing center tutoring. Once we have developed and practiced this foundation, you will begin work in the writing center as a tutor, responsible for assisting a wide variety of student clients with numerous writing tasks. Through this work, you will learn to actively engage with student clients in the revision of a text, respond to different student needs and abilities, work with a variety of writing tasks and rhetorical situations, and develop a richer sense of writing as a complex and negotiated social process.

Graduate Courses

Engl 572.s01: film criticism, engl 576.st1 fiction.

In this workshop-based creative writing course, students will develop original fiction based on strong attention to the fundamentals of literary storytelling: full-bodied characters, robust story lines, palpable environments and unique voices. We will pay particular attention to process awareness, to the integrity of the sentence and to authors' commitments to their characters and the places in which their stories unfold. Some workshop experience is helpful, as student peer critique will be an important element of the class.

ENGL 605.S01 Seminar in Teaching Composition

Thursdays 1-3:50 p.m.

This course will provide you with a foundation in the pedagogies and theories (and their attendant histories) of writing instruction, a foundation that will prepare you to teach your own writing courses at SDSU and elsewhere. As you will discover through our course, though, writing instruction does not come with any prescribed set of “best” practices. Rather, writing pedagogies stem from and continue to evolve because of various and largely unsettled conversations about what constitutes effective writing and effective writing instruction. Part of becoming a practicing writing instructor, then, is studying these conversations to develop a sense of what “good writing” and “effective writing instruction” might mean for you in our particular program and how you might adapt that understanding to different programs and contexts.

As we read about, discuss and research writing instruction, we will address a variety of practical and theoretical topics. The practical focus will allow us to attend to topics relevant to your immediate classroom practices: designing a curriculum and various types of assignments, delivering the course content and assessing student work, among others. Our theoretical topics will begin to reveal the underpinnings of these various practical matters, including their historical, rhetorical, social and political contexts. In other words, we will investigate the praxis—the dialogic interaction of practice and theory—of writing pedagogy. As a result, this course aims to prepare you not only as a writing teacher but also as a nascent writing studies/writing pedagogy scholar.

At the end of this course, you should be able to engage effectively in the classroom practices described above and participate in academic conversations about writing pedagogy, both orally and in writing. Assessment of these outcomes will be based primarily on the various writing assignments you submit and to a smaller degree on your participation in class discussions and activities.

ENGL 726.S01: The New Woman, 1880–1900s 

Thursdays 3–5:50 p.m.

Katherine Malone

This course explores the rise of the New Woman at the end of the nineteenth century. The label New Woman referred to independent women who rebelled against social conventions. Often depicted riding bicycles, smoking cigarettes and wearing masculine clothing, these early feminists challenged gender roles and sought broader opportunities for women’s employment and self-determination. We will read provocative fiction and nonfiction by New Women writers and their critics, including authors such as Sarah Grand, Mona Caird, George Egerton, Amy Levy, Ella Hepworth Dixon, Grant Allen and George Gissing. We will analyze these exciting texts through a range of critical lenses and within the historical context of imperialism, scientific and technological innovation, the growth of the periodical press and discourse about race, class and gender. In addition to writing an argumentative seminar paper, students will complete short research assignments and lead discussion.

ENGL 792.ST1 Women in War: Female Authors and Characters in Contemporary War Lit

In this course, we will explore the voices of female authors and characters in contemporary literature of war. Drawing from various literary theories, our readings and discussion will explore the contributions of these voices to the evolving literature of war through archetypal and feminist criticism. We will read a variety of short works (both theoretical and creative) and complete works such as (selections subject to change): "Eyes Right" by Tracy Crow, "Plenty of Time When We Get Home" by Kayla Williams, "You Know When the Men are Gone" by Siobhan Fallon, "Still, Come Home" by Katie Schultz and "The Fine Art of Camouflage" by Lauren Johnson.

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Flight information, infinity mileagelands, business travel, please select your country / region of residence, news releases, eva wins another mark of excellence, quality achievement ranking 8th among skytrax's top 10 best airlines in the world.

Jun 25, 2024

SKYTRAX, an airline and airport review and ranking site, unveiled its “2024 Global Airline Awards” at the Fairmont Windsor Park on Monday, 24 June, 2024. EVA Air President Clay Sun attended on behalf of EVA and accepted 16 of the airline’s awards, including 8th place ranking among the “World's Top 10 Best Airlines” and first for “Best Premium Economy Class Airline Catering” and “Best Premium Economy Class Onboard Catering in Asia” EVA also earned distinction as one of only 10 SKYTRAX’s Five-Star Airlines for nine consecutive years. More information on EVA’s honors and awards is available at Awards & Honors - EVA Air | North America (English) . Travelers can check out routes and book flights at .

“Reaching the highest bar to win the SKYTRAX 5-Star Airline Rating is an honor and the best affirmation we could receive of the good and hard work all our employees perform on a daily basis,” said EVA President Clay Sun. “We are grateful to every passenger for their trust and support and will continue to pursue excellence and continuously introduce the latest technology to optimize our services in order to bring a more comfortable, safe and enjoyable flight journey to all passengers.”

EVA launched the world’s first Premium Economy Class in 1992, leading the airline industry and setting the pace for widespread adoption of this innovative cabin. As it continues to expand its fleet and network, EVA is adding its latest Premium Economy in-between the Royal Laurel and Economy Classes on its Boeing 787-9s, refreshing and reconfiguring the aircraft. It will introduce the first upgraded B787-9 before the end of 2024 and the rest of the fleet will undergo the upgrade process. EVA will use them to facilitate flight scheduling and further elevate service quality, enabling more passengers to enjoy higher quality onboard experiences at affordable fares.

In order to further optimize in-flight services, starting from July 2024, EVA will offer Taiwan’s famous Kanpai Group Japanese-style barbecue meals to passengers in all three cabin classes, initially available on routes departing from Taipei to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. On top of that, the service items are constantly improving; its Royal Laurel Class exclusive Giorgio Armani amenity kit and Premium Economy Class Kipling amenity kit received “Best Onboard Amenities Kit (Business)” from Onboard Hospitality magazine and “Asia Best Premium Economy Class Amenity Kit” from PAX International at this year’s WTCE (World Travel Catering Expo) in Germany. The new collection will launch in the second half of 2024, bringing a refreshing experience to passengers.

SKYTRAX derives its annual “Global Airline Awards” from analyses of results of an international passenger service survey that measures satisfaction with individual air travel experiences. The organization launched online questionnaires that reached hundreds of countries and more than 21 million travelers to evaluate services from airports to cabins for more than 350 airlines and airports.

EVA has repeatedly won SKYTRAX “Global Airline Awards.” Its rankings and the associated categories are:

Winning AwardsWorld's Top 10 AirlinesRanking 2024No.8
Winning AwardsBest Premium Economy Class Airline CateringRanking 2024No.1
Winning AwardsBest Premium Economy Class Onboard Catering in AsiaRanking 2024No.1
Winning AwardsWorld's Best Premium Economy Class AirlinesRanking 2024No.3
Winning AwardsBest Business Class Airline Comfort AmenitiesRanking 2024No.3
Winning AwardsThe World’s Cleanest AirlineRanking 2024No.3
Winning AwardsThe World's Best Airline Cabin CrewRanking 2024No.4
Winning AwardsThe World's Best Airport ServicesRanking 2024No.4
Winning AwardsBest Airline Staff in AsiaRanking 2024No.4
Winning AwardsWorld's Best Economy Class AirlinesRanking 2024No.5
Winning AwardsThe Best Airlines in AsiaRanking 2024No.5
Winning AwardsBest Premium Economy Class Airline SeatsRanking 2024No.6
Winning AwardsBest Business Class Onboard CateringRanking 2024No.8
Winning AwardsBest Economy Class Airline CateringRanking 2024No.8
Winning AwardsWorld's Best Business Class AirlinesRanking 2024No.9
Winning AwardsBest Economy Class Airline SeatsRanking 2024No.9

2024 Skytrax award

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    1. David Sedaris - Laugh, Kookaburra. A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs…. This is one of the top essays of the lot. It's a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what's most important in life.

  17. Best Book of Essays (381 books)

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  18. The Best Reviewed Essay Collections of 2020 ‹ Literary Hub

    December 10, 2020. Zadie Smith's Intimations, Helen Macdonald's Vesper Flights, Claudia Rankine's Just Us, and Samantha Irby's Wow, No Thank You all feature among the Best Reviewed Essay Collections of 2020. Article continues below. Brought to you by Book Marks, Lit Hub's "Rotten Tomatoes for books.". *. 1. Vesper Flights by Helen ...

  19. Best/Favorite Books of Essays (540 books)

    Either those books that you would consider to contain the greatest essays or those books that contain your favorite essays. Books of essays that you found to be the most thought provoking, the most insightful, the most interesting, the funniest, the most beautifully written, etc. ... best, essays. 7 likes · Like. Lists are re-scored ...

  20. The Best Books to Improve Your Essay Writing Skills

    Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott: Gain insights on the creative process and overcome writer's block. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg: Unleash your creativity and develop a daily writing practice to refine your skills. Explore these essential books to enhance your essay writing abilities and stand ...

  21. The 20 Best Essay Collections of 2019 to Add to Your TBR

    Erosion: Essays of Undoing by Terry Tempest Williams (Sarah Crichton Books, October 8) This volume collects essays written between 2016 and 2018 covering the topic she has always written so beautifully about: the natural world. The essays focus on the concept of erosion, including the erosion of land and of the self.

  22. 10 Books for Essay Writing You Need To Know About

    The Oxford Book of Essays - John Gross. For the ultimate essay writing book, this is the collection of work that you need to read. There are 140 essays in here by 120 writers. You will find every kind of style; from poetry and fantasy to serious arguments. Some pieces are old, others are incredibly modern.

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  24. Five Books for People Who Really Love Books

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    FIRE EXIT Morgan Talty. Talty's first novel follows a white man who was raised on and then later evicted from a Penobscot reservation. When the book opens, he is deciding whether or not to tell ...

  26. The Tuning Fork in the Ear

    While I hesitate to use the word "delicious" to describe anything other than food, Carina del Valle Schorske writes delicious essays. One in particular, which won a 2021 National Magazine Award, is about Covid-19 grief and postapocalyptic dance floors.. "In Plato's 'Protagoras,' Socrates argues that dancing girls have no place in philosophical gatherings," she writes.

  27. PSEB Class 11 English Elective Syllabus 2024-2025: Download in PDF

    2.Selections from English Verse. 3.A Book of Essays and Stories. 4.A Practice Book of English Grammar. Download the above syllabus in PDF below: PSEB Class 11 English Elective Syllabus 2024-2025 PDF.

  28. Fall 2024 Semester

    Undergraduate CoursesComposition courses that offer many sections (ENGL 101, 201, 277 and 379) are not listed on this schedule unless they are tailored to specific thematic content or particularly appropriate for specific programs and majors.100-200 levelENGL 151.S01: Introduction to English StudiesTuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.Sharon SmithENGL 151 serves as an introduction to both ...

  29. EVA Wins Another Mark of Excellence, Quality Achievement ...

    EVA Wins Another Mark of Excellence, Quality Achievement Ranking 8th among SKYTRAX's Top 10 Best Airlines in the World Jun 25, 2024 SKYTRAX, an airline and airport review and ranking site, unveiled its "2024 Global Airline Awards" at the Fairmont Windsor Park on Monday, 24 June, 2024.

  30. Five Best: Science Fiction

    1. In 1956, when I was 8 years old and attending my first sleepaway camp, I began reading the Tom Swift Jr. series. The plots, concocted by a stream of ghostwriters who published under the ...