Is there anything more fascinating than people who write about stuff? Of course not. Stuff is the nexus point of all things. It can be described and it can be interpreted. It is depicted in a variety of ways. While fiction writing requires some sort of precision and usually needs a lot of time to be fully realized – essays are a kind of compromise between the big thing and a little nil. Nasty middle-ground of sorts where anything can happen and everything usually goes wrong. Some writers can do essays better than the others. Here’s a list of some of the most fascinating famous essay writers.
You may know Fran Lebowitz because of her uber-cool looks – that haircut, smug face, jeans + cowboy boots + jacket + white shirt combination, never-ending smoking, evocative verbose talking style… She also wrote a lot of essays back when she wasn’t stuck in the middle of her rather infamous Writers Block.
The majority of her writings are collected in 1978’s Metropolitan Life and 1981’s Social Studies (and also 1994’s compilation Fran Lebowitz Reader which is a best-of with a couple of bonus texts). Her writing style is fast-paced, highly expressively, entire deadpan. Her essays are rollercoaster rides – the route is set and you just need to go through to get a thrill. It is as if she was not writing a text but composing a piece of music where the only instrument is reader’s reactions.
Bruce Sterling is a kind of a writer who can make exciting anything he writes about. He’s got that positively toxic sense of wonder in his writing. Man who prefers interesting words and rather unexpected turns – he writes about new things that emerge in our lives.
His method lies in the completely unmitigated exploration rampage of the subject. You can be sure you know everything about the subject. The way he arranges information is particularly exciting. In his 1992 Hacker Crackdown he convinces you by style only that the infamous so-called 1987-1990 Hacker Civil War is a Shakespearian drama even though the entire thing more resembled afterschool playground racket. Sterling builds a maze with information – lets the reader walk around it and make your own conclusions.
You might’ve heard of this man. He was on the cover of “Time” magazine and he was called “great American novelist” and everybody said “meh”. He’s also a nominee of Bad Sex Award. Despite all this – he actually knows a thing or two how to write contemplative essay to start an intense argument. His infamous 1996 essay “Why Bother?” aka “Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels” was a blast when it came out. In it Franzen tackles the subject of technological growth, ever-reaching threat of distractions in our lives and importance of reading despite all this. He also shares his thoughts on the state of the novel form in the end of XX century and thinks about the ways it can evolve in the future.
Franzen takes the subjects of writing and reading as a man who truly, madly, deeply loves it and tries to defend it from any impending harm by any means necessary. That makes the reader rather engage in otherwise optional opinion on a rather technical specifics of the novel form in that point of time.
David Foster Wallace
Everybody says they like David Foster Wallace. But nobody seems to be really reading him beyond the buzz-worthy titles. Wallace seems to be a natural fit for essay writing. He likes to explore, he enjoys the process of getting to know more, to understand something, to change the perspective and go backwards. And reader can do it with him.
His 1996 essay “David Lynch keeps his head” recounts time Wallace had spent as a reporter on set of Lynch’s “Lost Highway”. It is inspiring character study – one of the most satisfying accounts on any artists. Wallace provides multiple perspectives on the subject. He tells us what he thinks of Lynch. He drops few memorable episodes from the shoot and then goes deep into the phenomenon of David Lynch. Wallace tries to dissect his style and explain to himself what makes Lynch’s worldview so fascinating.
Hunter S. Thompson
Say what you about mighty Raoul Duke – crass, loudmouth, gross, obscene – but the man knew how to combine the words in a way that will evoke enchanting narrative on any subject. As the story goes, while working as a copyboy he retyped Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s novels in order to feel how the good text written. His Gonzo writing style is something to behold. First-person, wishy-washy free-flowing narrative – cut to the action – swipe to the random thought that turns everything inside out – snap we’re back into the action.
His classic 1970 report Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved is scathing Boschian diorama of excess and consumerism. Thompson gets right in the middle of the whirlpool of pus, dives down to the bottom, drives a nail deep and sputters a fountain of hidden excremental treasure.
At this point Tom Wolfe seems to be the guy who wrote about Merry Prankster Bus Ride and then turned into self-serious bro who writes about the cool. But at his prime he was really good. His intense in-your-face approach is making you feel you’re in the middle of thing. His love for very detailed expressive descriptions makes reading more akin to wine tasting than digesting information.
His 1963 essay “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” with all its glorious onomatopoeia (Varoom! Varoom! Thphhhhhh! Rahghhh! Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm) is the best example of his style. High on style, low on dull recounts – it is unstoppable juggernaut of stories and images that in the same time make a convincing argument against the cult of consumerism.
If you don’t really feel like you want to read that much – than read just one essay by Gay Talese. “Frank Sinatra has a cold” is one of the best reports ever written. Staggering character study of one of the greatest entertainers of the XX century – it is mesmerizing kaleidoscope of scenes from a life of a man who is on the top of the world and yet still insecure and frail in many aspects. While denied an actual interview, Talese decided to watch the man and his entourage. Unlike Thompson, Talese never makes himself a center of the narrative. Instead he prefers the omnipresence of an Author. He rips through the layers of reality, uncovers hidden undercurrents and shuns the gloss of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
As Talese once wrote “…by getting rejected constantly and by seeing his flunkies protecting his flanks-we will be getting close to the truth about the man.”
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