Primarily we read Montaigne, Hazlitt, and Lamb, but also a broad group of essayists that you don’t find much in the anthologies. I could do the basics before I ever read those writers, but my writing became a lot more interesting, at least to me, and I feel that it improved a lot, and that was the key for me.
A lot of literary nonfiction is narrative based, it’s memoir—and there’re some great memoirs, works that are influential, and I appreciate them a lot—but I love thinking.
A lot of people…I don’t know about you…how’d you get into creative nonfiction? : Yeah, absolutely Ian Frazier, but more than anyone it was Woody Allen.
So I actually came into—I hesitate to call what I write personally “creative nonfiction” as much as I just call them essays, because that line between fiction and nonfiction, particularly with humor and satire, is often fuzzy, and irrelevant in some cases.
I like a lot of essayists who aren’t pulling in quotes from the great dead authors, but I think they are still consciously participating in the long tradition, and they know somewhat of the past.
It always feels good to me when an author acknowledges where we all come from and the debt we owe, to Montaigne especially, but to the others as well.They’d hide the fact, probably for marketing reasons.Now you can see the word essays on book covers, even on the front.I thought about how, in a way, I’m entangled with my children. “Independent Redundancy” is an essay about originality, and that’s a question I’ve had for a very long time: what is originality? “Of Cruelty” doesn’t really get to speaking about cruelty until seven-eighths of the way through the essay. In “Of Vanity” he says, “It is the inattentive reader who loses my subject, not I.” So he throws the blame back on the reader, humorously. I think you reference Montaigne and Pascal and Johnson—a lot of older writers and painters.Or, why do we oversimplify the idea of originality to the point of creating a false concept? If I do write something thematic, I look for experiences that speak to that theme, and even if I’m beginning from a particular event in my life, I try to add to it, so that the essay is not just a recounting from beginning to end. I remember when I read “Spit,” I got to the point where I stopped and thought, “Wait, what is the title of this essay again? It comes back around and moves, and your work does that a lot, which I absolutely love. I was thinking about D’Agata’s anthology trilogy, too.But I didn’t want to just write the “what happened.” I wanted to think from it. I feel that your work definitely has a strong foothold in a very classical tradition of essaying, and this book is a stark contrast to other essay collections being published recently.So I tried to do that and I overlaid some ideas from physics like wave/particle duality and quantum entanglement. For instance, “Of Cripples” doesn’t mention cripples until about nine-tenths of the way in. So it could be a little bit frustrating, but once you get used to it and expect it, then it’s really pleasing. Yours seem very classical in form as well as content.With that said, as you mentioned, you do have narrative elements from your life in most of these essays, if not all of them.I’m curious, when you’re approaching a new essay is it a thematic idea first that you then scaffold and attach the narrative to, or do you begin with the narrative? For instance, the essay “Entering and Breaking,” which is about my sons going missing for a couple of hours, that was certainly driven by an event that I wanted to write about.I think I would definitely fit on the revivalist side.It’s not just me, but the authors who are trying to be a little bit anachronistic in terms of phrasings, from the sentence level to the essay level.