Personal essays are subjective by definition. They are autobiographical in nature and usually deal with an experience that has shaped the author's personal view of the world. They tend to be conversational in tone, allowing the reader to stroll through the inner thoughts of a creative mind. But most of all they are deliciously intimate, frank and often funny. Sit down for some table talk and let four internationally renowned novelists share his or her insights into what makes us and the world go round.
Since the publication of her novel Housekeeping in 1981, Robinson has built a reputation as a writer of sharp, subtly moving prose, not only as a major novelist (her second, Gilead, won the 2005 Pulitzer) but also as a rigorous thinker and incisive essayist. Her new collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books, returns to the themes that have preoccupied her: the role of faith in modern life, the inadequacy of fact, the contradictions inherent in human nature. Clear-eyed and forceful as ever, Robinson demonstrates once again why she is regarded as a modern rhetorical master.
In New Ways to Kill Your Mother, Tóibín, (award-winning author of The Master  and Brooklyn ), turns his attention to the intricacies of family relationships in literature and writing. The subjects of the pieces range from the importance of aunts (and the death of parents) in the English nineteenth-century novel to the relationship between fathers and sons in the writing of James Baldwin and Barack Obama. He also illuminates not only the intimate connections between writers and their families but also, with wit and tenderness, articulates the great joy of reading their work.
From childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, the Pulitzer-winning journalist and novelist uses the events of her life to illuminate ours as she considers marriage, girlfriends, mothers, faith, loss, aging, wisdom, all the stuff in our closets, and more. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is candid, funny, moving, and filled with the sharp insights that confirm Quindlen as a keen observer of modern life.
Bestselling novelist Jonathan Franzen (Freedom  and The Corrections ) approaches the themes, both human and literary, that have long preoccupied him in Farther Away. He recounts his violent encounter with bird poachers in Cyprus, examines his mixed feelings about the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace, and offers a moving and witty take on the ways that technology has changed how people express their love. These essays present a unique and mature mind wrestling with itself, with literature and with some of the most important issues of our day.
Photo by Greg Martin
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