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Posts from the ‘essays’ Category


#Essays Best American Essays 2017



  1. I’ve reviewed the first 5 essays
  2. …and will let you discover the rest.
  3. The BEST essay was by Rachel Ghansah.
  4. “The Weight”
  5. Try to read anything by this Pulitzer Prize winner
  6. ….you won’t be disappointed.


Last Thoughts:

  1. Personally I was  NOT impressed with the selected essays.
  2. They lacked creativity, insight and
  3. there were too many long personal essays.
  4. I’m not interested with your family relationships!
  5. I’ve read other collections that are WELL worth your reading time:
  6. Zadie Smith – Feel Free

  1. Ashleigh Young – Can You Tolerate This?

  1. Fiona Wright – Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger

  1. Best Australian Essays 2016

  1. Best Australian Science Writing 2018


My notes:

  1. Two Shallow Graves  C+
  2. Jason Arment…
  3. served in Operation Iraqi Freedom
  4. as a Machine Gunner in the USMC.
  5. He’s earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction
  6. from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
  7. Arment is a warrior as witness who writes down things we don’t want to know.
  8. Reading time: 22 minutes
  9. Conclusion:
  10. This is not an essay
  11. …it is probably a chapter from
  12. Arment’s published book in 2017  Musalaheen (memoir)
  13. Arment writes vividly
  14. …but I’m not interested in war literature.


  1. The Weight  A++++++
  2. Rachel K. Ghansah…
  3. is an American award-winning essayist.
  4. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2018 for her profile of
  5. white supremacist and mass murderer Dylann Roof
  6. who killed nine black people at a church in South Carolina.
  7. Gahnsah writes about her past reluctance
  8. to revere James Baldwin in this essay.
  9. She wants to provide a model others can build upon so that they
  10. …do not buckle under “The Weight” of Baldwin’s legacy.
  11. The man can finally rest in peace.
  12. Reading time: 38 minutes
  13. Conclusion:
  14. This essay is absolutely stunning!
  15. I suggest you read anything you can find
  16. by Rachel K. Ghansah!


  1. White Horse     D- 
  2. Elise Goldbach...
  3. She writes  a courageous personal essay about  a
  4. campus sexual attack and its aftermath.
  5. After 6 minutes I realize this is not the
  6. …essay I want to spend time reading.
  7. Reading time:   — minutes
  8. Conclusion:
  9. This essay is difficult to read….so DNF!


  1. The City That Bleeds  D-
  2. Lawrence Jackson…
  3. is a professor of English and history at
  4. Johns Hopkins University.
  5. He is a  literary critic and compelling biographer.
  6. Essay starts out as a description of police officers
  7. on trial for brutality…and suddenly is a essay about
  8. L. Jackson’s ancestors in Baltimore.
  9. Reading time:  15 minutes
  10. Conclusion:
  11. This essay is makes valid points on
  12. the state affairs in Baltimore
  13. …the city that bleeds
  14. …but it did not hold my interest.
  15. It felt like Jackson shifts words here and there
  16. and tells me things I read in the news.
  17. The essay lacks depth.


  1. We Are Orphans Here   C+
  2. Rachel Kushner…
  3. is an author of several novels
  4. The Flamethrowers (2013) and The Mars Room (2018)
  5. Ms Kushner spends a weekend in the Shuafat Refugee
  6. Camp in East Jerusalem.
  7. The essay is probably not simply about a place or a journey,
  8. but rather is about what she may discover
  9. about people, life on that journey and in that place.
  10. Reading time:  15 minutes
  11. Conclusion:
  12. This essay is travel essay
  13. The hard part was trying to find
  14. Kushner’s quest…
  15. …the reason for writing this essay.
  16. I think she wanted to confront the image
  17. that the international media uses to depict
  18. Shuafat Camp…
  19. ” …as the most dangerous place in Jerusalem”
  20. with her personal experience pg 66
  21. “…how wonderful it was in Shuafat Camp…how safe I felt.”
  22. The essay was….average.
  23. Unfortunately, it did not appeal to me

#Non-fiction August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle



  1. August Wilson understood the power of the theater.
  2. He used it to its full potential by
  3. …inserting honesty and realism into every play.
  4. Some consider August Wilson “America’s Shakespeare”.
  5. August Wilson was an American playwright
  6. …who did the unheard of- penning ten plays.
  7. …one for each decade of the 20th C.


  1.  Wilson received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama:
  2.  Fences (1987), The Piano Lesson (1990)
  3. These 10 plays gives a glimpse into
  4. …American history through the
  5. …lens of the Black experience.
  6. August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle is a
  7. …series of critical essays about the plays.
  8. I have reviewed the first 5 essays
  9. …you can discover the rest of the book yourself!



  1. Essays 1-6 were interesting
  2. Essays 7-13 …seemed to repeat many thoughts
  3. about two plays: Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
  4. Weak point: the essays do  NOT explain all 10 plays
  5. One of the most famous play is Fences  NOT reviewed!
  6. It is considered  the African-American version
  7. ot The Death of a Salesman
  8. A few essays were very instructive about…
  9. Seven Guitars, The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  10. ….but still feel  that the book
  11. does not live up to my expectations.
  12. #Disappointed





1. The  emancipated century – J.H. Scott  ( 2 plays discussed) – easy to read

  1. Play: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone 
  2. Set in 1911… the play is about African Americans cut adrift  by
  3. The Great Migration to the North and by slavery from their African past.
  4. The  characters meet in a boarding house
  5. They represent a cross-section of  African Americans.
  6. The boarders are  in the midst of a
  7. …massive search for their “song,” or identity.


  1. Play: The Piano Lesson
  2. Set in 1936…this is a …
  3. Family conflict between Bernice and her
  4. …brother Boy Willie about the family piano.
  5. For Boy Willie the piano is a way to get some quick cash to buy land. 
  6. For Bernice, the piano is a source of strength.
  7. It reminds her of the courage and endurance shown by her ancestors.
  8. Boy Willie looks to the future
  9. …while Bernice looks to the past.


2. Situated identity in The Janitor (J. Zeff):  short essay about a play that is NOT in the cycle.

  1. The Janitor is a 1985  4 minute play.
  2. A janitor is someone society ignores.
  3. He is left to sweep the floor.
  4. The janitor gets an idea.
  5. …sees a microphone in an empty hall
  6. …and just starts talking.
  7. Messageidentity is a work in progress which is in your control,
  8. “…but what you are now ain’t what you gonna become.”


3. Two Trains Running (S. Saddler, P. Bryant-Jackson) – This essay did not appeal to me. SKIM!

  1. This was a  comparison of two books by
  2. American scholars Living Black History, M. Marable and
  3. The Archive and the Repertoire, D. Taylor.
  4. Where is the play?
  5. I noticed they referred to the play
  6. Two Trains Running  but do NOT review this play at length
  7. …so I decided to skim this essay and
  8. …investigate the Pulitzer Prize 1992 play on Wikipedia.
  9. I learned more on Wiki…than in his essay!


4. World War II History (E. Bonds) – excellent essay,  I learned a lot about the difficult period just after WW II.  Black men struggle to move on after the war. They feel they are not benefiting from the post WW II economic boom.  They feel like…they are still fighting.

  1. Play: Seven Guitars
  2. Set in 1948…
  3. …The play begins and ends after the funeral of one of the main characters.
  4. Events leading to the funeral  are revealed in flashbacks.
  5. The essay explains the 7 characters (7 guitars) and their
  6. individual out-of-tune chords (life experiences).
  7. What I did not realize was how important the boxer
  8. Joe Lewis was for the African American community.
  9. Wilson uses Lewis’s fame and downfall as an essential part of the play.
  10. It is so sad to read that  African American GI’s were fighting
  11. …on two fronts:
  12. the enemy overseas….and racism at home.


5. Stereotype and Archetype in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (M. Downing) – best explanation difference stereotype vs archetype I’ve ever read.  Excellent essay, lucidly-written, logically-structured, and convincingly argued.

  1. Play: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  2. Set in 1920s…the historic exploitation of
  3. black recording artists by white producers.
  4. The essay explains how August Wilson started with
  5. stereotypes assigned by whites to blacks in the play.
  6. Then he remakes them into archetypes.
  7. I would have missed this
  8. …completely by just reading the play!
  9. Wilson places the stereotype (ST) at the beginning of the play
  10. …adds monologues…adds POV of African American characters
  11. …draws the original ST (evokes criticism, suspicion, scorn)
  12. …into an archetype (evokes empathy, understanding, compassion)
  13. Example: Ma Rainey is introduced as
  14. ST: chaotic, unreasonable, difficult, a risk with the law
  15. Wilson breaks this ST into components and rebuilds Ma as
  16. AT: mother, queen, goddess

#AWW 2019 Ashleigh Young






  1. This would not have been my choice to start an essay collection.
  2. Topic was not a good hook...not funny or emotional
  3. …just a bit strange.



  1. Story took me back to the carefree summer days on a beach.
  2. I can’t remember the last time
  3. …I jumped into the ocean….how sad is that?


The Te Kūiti Underground

  1. Absolutely enchanting…author’s memories of her father.
  2. “…he became in my eyes more and more eccentric,
  3. …and I became  more narrow-minded.”



  1. Just a story that leaves the reader
  2. with a message from an eccentric French postman:
  3. “ …how wonderful it is if we just keep going
  4. …a simple stumbling block…can change
  5. the entire story of out lives and deaths.”
  6. #SmileOnMyFace


On Any Walk

  1. Once I start a walk…I never turn back.
  2. I just remember how far I’ve come
  3. .How much distance would be wasted
  4. …if I turn back?
  5. Once I’m home …the coffee tastes so special!
  6. Ashleigh Young will…
  7. #NeverGiveUp


Big Red

  1. I’m speechless….
  2. We are introduced tp author’s family
  3. …mom, dad and 2 brothers.
  4. Ashleigh Young is an amazing talent
  5. … of the BEST essays.


Window Seat

  1. We’ve all been there
  2. …on a plane with a talkative passenger next to us.
  3. Only this passenger….could she be and angel?
  4. #Spooky


Black Dog Book

  1. What you possess…you loose.
  2. Happy family dog story….but sometimes 
  3. Mom has to make the difficult decision
  4. …and call the vet.
  5. #HardToSayGoodbye


Katherine Would Approve

  1. Anecdotes about the period when
  2. Ashleigh Young was director of 
  3. Katherine Mansfield Birthplace House
  4. …in Wellington, New Zealand.
  5. #Job



  1. What to do when a harmless comment stings?
  2. #ThinkBeforeYouSpeak


Can You Tolerate This?

  1. After reading this essay I had to close my Kindle
  2. take off my glasses and close my eyes.
  3. #PowerfulWriting
  4. …one of the BEST essays


Seas of Trees

  1. Eye-opener about a disturbing
  2. …social trend in Japan: hikikomori.
  3. Creative young people becoming modern-day hermits.
  4. #PTSS


Bikram’s Knee

  1. If you are determined to find a way back to strength
  2. nothing is unfix-able.
  3. This is a very, very personal essay about Ashleigh’s
  4. Struggle to accept the awkwardness of her body.
  5. She keeps waiting on the  gym bench, elbows on her knees
  6. head in her hand
  7. .…waiting for transformation.
  8. #Yoga #Running
  9. .one of the BEST essays.



  1. The author visits a Maori ritual
  2. …unveiling a headstone of a family member.
  3. She will write a story to
  4. accompany the photographs her friend is taking.


On Breathing

  1. So funny about a simple decision
  2. ,,,author decides to breath noisily
  3. …when she feels puffed 
  4. during a taxing bike ride.
  5. #Quirky


On Going Away

  1. Insightful look at relationships…
  2. Going away and then coming back together
  3. …this surge of
  4. anger and relief is toxic.
  5. Solution:  compress it into one moment
  6. …like stepping into a manhole.
  7. A sharp, pure accident with a beginning and an end.
  8. #Insightful



  1. Heartwrenching…to try to reach into the past
  2. and hold on to some one…
  3. …to try and stop time.
  4. #Depression



  1. Heartwarming observations and anecdotes
  2. about a woman who decides
  3. …to write a book  about her life.
  4. The story is clearly referring to
  5. Ashleigh Young’s mother.
  6. #Hysterical
  7. of the BEST essays.



Last thoughts:

  1. Extremely well-written set of essays
  2. …in quiet, elegant joy-to-read prose.
  3. External circumstances
  4. …family, job, body shape or where you live..
  5. cannot determine your happiness.
  6. Ashleigh Young shows us
  7. happiness depends on what we are given.
  8. This a book  best read ‘slowly’…
  9. I was not ready to say goodbye…
  10. Ashleigh Young’s beautiful writing.
  11. I’m anxiously waiting for her next book!
  12. #MustRead



#AWW 2019 Fiona Wright



  1. Wright examines her own anorexia and the significance of hunger.
  2. She  writes frankly and movingly about a
  3. …difficult and very personal subject.
  4. She provides insights into her reading,
  5. travels and her interactions with others.
  6. In several essays Wright relates
  7. …her experience to that of characters.
  8. In novels  there are characters who starve themselves:
  9. For Love Alone by Christina Stead,
  10. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton and
  11. The Bluebird Cafe by Carmel Bird.


In Colombo    …malnutrition, she misses it

  1. First sentence: I’ll always remember the
  2. …particular intensity that malnutrition brings on,
  3. …I know that I miss it still.
  4. Reaction:  Hunger keeps the author separate from
  5. the rituals of society not only in Colombo.
  6. 70% impressions of the writer’s apprenticeship at a newspaper
  7. ….30% about her illness.


In Hospital   …sickest

  1. First Sentence: At my sickest, a lover once folded a
  2. blanket over my shoulderblade before curling against my back to sleep.
  3. Reaction: Hunger is a mediator, it stands between the author and the world. Hunger is addictive. Hunger is support, it is scaffolding. Hunger became my safest state.
  4. 100%….very powerful, personal and disturbing.


In Berlin     …interesting facts

  1. First sentence: I felt smaller in Berlin than I ever had before;
  2. the Northern Germans are, by and large, a big-boned people,
  3. …the shanks of their legs are particularly impressive.
  4. Reaction:  The author visits a labour camp, Sachsenhausen.
  5. The body never forgets starvation. 
  6. Sad…the author bought food to give her
  7. …pantry shelves an appearance of normality.
  8. “I didn’t choose my hunger. That no one ever does.”
  9. Wright describes returning to a family she
  10. …lived with during her studies 10 years ago.
  11. She had been well then.
  12. She did not know what lay ahead.


In Miniature  …presenting a paradox

  1. First sentence: It seems a strange place to start writing about the miniature,
  2. but I want to begin on the internet, because I found there,
  3. for a time, a thing I could hardly have conceived would have existed,
  4. a community of illness, specifically for the kinds of illnesses that
  5. …we often keep silent and hidden within ourselves.
  6. Reaction: Breathtakingly  beautiful…how Fiona Wright sees her
  7. …fascination with miniature reflected in her illness.
  8. This essay was poetic!


In Increments   …sickness personified “gnawing”

  1. I’ll never know the point where my physical illness
  2. ..gave way to something different,
  3. something more complex, but more and more I think
  4. …now that hunger was always with me, always
  5. …gnawing away somewhere in me, and my illness
  6. …just allowed this hunger to assert itself in the only
  7. …way that could possibly have been acceptable to me.


In Books I    …analogy in books

  1. The year that I first became ill, when my physical condition first developed,
  2. …was the first year that I studied Australian Literature.


In Books II    …analogy in books

  1. There are books I have had with me in
  2. …hospital waiting rooms that I can never re-read without re-reading, too,
  3. …the traces that they carry of the spaces that I took them into.


In Group  ….mother vs daughter

  1. There are some conversation that you shouldn’t have with your mother,
  2. especially if you are a poet, and especially if you are a
  3. …poet four months into you third stint of group therapy.


In Passing   …sad news

  1. I received the news digitally, in a text
  2. …from my old housemate, Kat.


In Hindsight  …looking back


  1. I resisted, for a long time, reading any anorexia memoirs,
  2. …even though I’d been reading about
  3. ..the condition in fiction and textbooks.



  1. The cover of Fiona Wright’s book keeps catching my eye.
  2. What kind of story is behind those eyes.
  3. Fiona Wright (born 1983) is an Australian poet and critic.
  4. Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays in Hunger (2015)
  5. is a collection of ten essays that detail the author’s
  6. own experience with anorexia.
  7. The longest essay is ‘In Group’
  8. the shortest is ‘In Passing’.
  9. The best?  I loved them all.
  10. I wrote down a few words about the first few essays.
  11. Each one  draws me in with the first sentence.
  12. After reading one essay
  13. ….I have to get up and do something else
  14. …I must let my thoughts settle.
  15. Fiona Wright has shared her life
  16. stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron.
  17. The more Fiona thinks about her body
  18. the more she knows it is no longer her own.
  19. Her body tries to fold up at the first sign of danger
  20. …as if disappearing into a shell.
  21. #MustRead

#Ireland Essays on Modern Irish Writing



Gerard Dawe is a retired (2017) Professor in English from Trinity College Dublin and a poet.
Born in Belfast and started is family life in the west of Ireland, Galway.

Series of 14 essay on modern Irish writing from from WB Yeats onwards.

The epigraph is by Hugo Hamilton’s The Speckled People and
reflects Irish writers and their writing for me….excellent choice of words by G. Dawe!

“…You can’t be afraid of saying the opposite,
even if you look like a fool and everybody thinks you’re
in the wrong country, speaking the wrong language.

The book is also dedicated to an Irish poet who passed away in 2017, Gerard Fanning.
I have never heard of him.
His poem collections are difficult to find in The Netherlands.
I ordered his collection Water & Power.
I was the last book before his death.
I’m curious what he has to say.

The essays are in the form of invited lectures or contributions given by G. Dawe.
Tone is conversational and because it is a lecture it takes random turns.
I had to read carefully and ask myself “what did I really learn from this lecture?

I read about the author on Wikipedia before starting Dawe’s writing.
It gives a helicopter view of the writer before I start an essay.


Some of the writers discussed in the essays:

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) Nobel Prize 1923 and
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) Nobel Prize Literature 1969
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) Nobel Prize 1995

  • Note: …it is quite exceptional to have  3 Nobel Prize winners
  • emerge from an Irish Protestant Group in literature!

James Plunkett, John Hewitt, Eavan Boland, Dorothy Molloy,
Michelle O’Sullivan, Leontia Flynn, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Ethna Carbery
Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Lavin, Kate O’Brien, John McGahern, Brendan Behan, JP Donleavy, Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Deane, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, Stewart Parker.

  1. Read Eavan Boland’s  The Poet’s Dublin....beautiful
  2. Reading Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin‘s
  3. The Boys of Bluehill (40 poems published 2015)
  4. Read an essay by Seamus Heaney about Patrick Kavanaugh.
  5. Read Seamus Heaney Poetry
  6. Read Elizabeth Bowen The Death of the Heart
  7. Reading Medbh McGuckian Selected Poems 1978-1994



  1. Early years: 1913 – 1939: Lockout Dublin, WW I, Easter 1916
  2. 1940s – 1950s: Tragic writing lives of American and Irish generations
  3. 1950s: Emigration of young Irish women to Britain
  4. 1960s: Boozy literary Dublin
  5. ….and onwards 2010s.


My notes on 7 essays:


Hearing Things: W.B. Yeats – S. Beckett

Beckett and Yeats had similar social, educational, Irish Protestantism backrounds. Beckett would create in his drama testimonials to Yeats.  Beckett and Yeats met only once . 1933 Beckett went through extremely difficult tragic year: death cousin (TB) May 1933 and loss of his father (heart attack) June 1933. This marked the real beginnings of his life as a writer. He was 27 years old.


Plunkett’s City: James Plunkett
James Plunkett was an Irish writer (1920-2003) He was educated by The Christian Brothers in Dublin.

Plunkett grew up among the Dublin working class, petty bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia.

Strumpet City is a 1969 historical novel by James Plunkett set in Dublin, Ireland, around the time of the 1913 Dublin Lock-out.
Strumpet City is movement between Dublin, Kingstown and the coastline of Dublin. Characters talk to one another as they observe the city around them. This is the long tradition of perambulation in Irish writing. The book starts in 1907 and ends 1914 with a troop ship leaving Dublin Bay for WW I. In the seven years the 1913 Lockout, struggles for social justice and democracy in Ireland revolve around Dublin.

Dawe introduces met to a poem which I read and listened to: Easter 1916 by W.B. Yeats.

This is a nice read/listen on Easter Morning….and remember what happened en changed Ireland forever.


Border Crossings:

John Harold Hewitt (1907 – 1987), who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the most significant Belfast poet to emerge before the 1960s generation of Northern Irish poets
that included Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.
Hewitt’s verse expresses the
damage done by political division and nostalgia for a different past.
John Hewitt was a father figure for young Northern poets like Heaney and Longely.

I read Dawe’s essay and did not learn very much. I kept searching on the internet for a better image of this poet.I listened to readings of his poems “The Watchers” and “The Local Poet.” In this poem you can sense Hewitt’s modesty and shyness between the lines. Beautiful.
On Culture Northern Ireland website I found a concise introduction to John Hewitt that appealed to me more than Dawe’s essay.

We need Hewitt now more than ever to remind us that we have a tradition and a definable, colourful, multi-layered Ulsterness. That Ulster has a cultural and cultured mind that has nothing to do with universities. Now that we have, at least for political reasons, ceased to kill each other, Hewitt can teach us how to write poetry again in the peace of who we really are.


From The Ginger Man to Kitty Stobling

This is going to be an interesting essay because I HATED The Ginger Man by P J Donleavy. It was listed on Modern Library’s list of Best 100 novels of 20th C. Perhaps Gerard Dawe can tell me what I was not ‘getting’ in Donleavy’s book!

60% of the essay was a Dawe’s attempt to put Irish literature in the historical context of the 1950s (social,political) Donleavy was mentioned in two sentences! No analysis. 40% of the essay was about Patrick Kavanaugh. He produced an Irish classic “The Great Hunger” (poem) and fought tirelessly against the establishment in Dublin. Ireland 1950s was an age of innocence but also full of dark secrets (difficult (patriarchy) conditions for women, child abuse in the Catholic Church, Magdalene laundries).


The Passionate Transitory: John McGahern  – REAL DISCOVERY!!

The Observer hailed him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death in 2006  and in its obituary the Guardian described him as ‘arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett’. I never heard of John McGahern! (1934-2006)

Dawe’s essay was not very enlightening. I learned more while reading McGahern’s Wikipedia page!

McGahern had a very challenging life, moving schools repeatedly – often for no good reason – losing his mother to cancer when he was 10 yrs old…growing up with an absentee father and enduring physical, emotional, psychological abuse at the hands of his policeman father.

One of the preeminent Irish writers of our time, John McGahern has captivated readers with such poignant and heart-wrenching novels as Amongst Women and The Dark. Moving between tragedy and savage comedy, desperation and joy. John McGahern….all his books reflect his hard life experiences. Characters, events, attitudes are all peeled back to reveal reality. Sounds like a good author to add to reading lists!

I bought his first novel….The Barracks (1963) and his last book before he died…Memoir (2005).

Elizabeth Reegan (represents McGahern’s marries into the enclosed Irish village of her upbringing. The children are not her own; her husband is straining to break free from the servile security of the police force; and her own life, threatened by illness, seems to be losing the last vestiges of its purpose.


The Barracks (1963) AE Memorial Award, McCauley Fellowship.
The Dark (1965)
The Leavetaking (1975)
The Pornographer (1979)
Amongst Women (1990), Irish Times Literary Award (1991), nominated for the Booker Prize (1990).
That They May Face the Rising Sun (2001), Irish Novel of the Year (2003), nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Non-Fiction: Memoir (2005)


Fatal Attractions: John Berryman in Dubiin
John Allyn McAlpin Berryman (1914 – 1972) was an American poet and scholar…not Irish but visited in Dublin. I wonder why Dawe added this essay to his book? This essay feels out of place…#JustSaying


History Lessons: Derek Mahon and Seamus Deane
Derek Mahon (1941) is an Irish poet. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland child of Ulster Protestant working class parents. Derek Mahon is regarded with Heaney and Longley as the leader of the resurgence of Irish poetry from the late 60s onwards. He writes lyric poetry of enormous wit, elegance and scepticism

Seamus Deane (1940) is an Irish poet, novelist, critic and intellectual historian. Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, Deane was brought up as part of a Catholic nationalist family. Of all the writers I’ve read about in the first 7 essays….Deane is the least interesting. Sorry, Seamus.


Last thoughts:

  1. I’ll let you discover the last 7 essays yourself.
  2. The purpose of reading this book was to broaden
  3. my Irish reading horizons.
  4. #MissionAccomplished

#Classic: Essays by Montaigne



  1. Michel de Montaigne  explores the human condition
  2. …in a very personal and clever manner.
  3. His essays chart the course of 20 yr of self-investigation.
  4. He pretends to most of the vices.
  5. If there be any virtue in him, he says, it got in by stealth.



  1. I enjoyed the most personal essays:
  2. Book I
  3. This selection of essays is ‘the hook’.
  4. They are personal and frank.
  5. Unfortunately there are also many essay in
  6. book II and III  …. I consider ‘duds’.

Happiness not be judged until after our death
Educating children

Book II

  1. …including 140 pages entitled “Apology for Raymond Sebond’
  2. The “Apology for Raymond Sebond” is
  3. three times as long as any other essay that Montaigne wrote
  4. The essay has been seen as an attack on authoritrian religion and
  5. a covert threat to Christian faith.
  6. It was a slog to listen to….and
  7. I just started to do some household chores
  8. …and let the words go in one ear and out the other!
  9. This essay sticks out like a sour thumb
  10. If you encounter this essay and feel as I did
  11. …just skip it!


Affection of fathers for children
On resemblence of children to fathers


Book III (…there were only 3 essays I liked)


Last thoughts

  1. Montaigne is the frankest and honestest of all writers.
  2. He does have opinions that still ring true today.
  3. Strong point: Montaigne writes about themes that charm the
  4. reader ( see my list of favorites).
  5. We relate to them.
  6. Strong point: Montaigne’s style is not dry….but daring
  7. …filled with depth and witty observations.
  8. Weak point: don’t approach these essays expecting
  9. that they are an easy read (21st C standard)…they are not!
  10. The book was published 1580 and
  11. …written to one sex only.
  12. A certain nakedness of statement was permitted
  13. …which our manners of a literature addressed
  14. …equally to both sexes, do not allow.
  15. Montaigne could have used the advice of one of his
  16. favorite authors:
  17. “The eloquence that diverts us  to itself harms its content.” (Seneca)
  18. #SomeEssaysBoring

Classic: Pensées




  1. Difficult, difficult..very difficult to read in French!
  2. I realized the edition I had was more than just Pensées.
  3. Of the 736 pages I read the first part (pg 5-257)
  4. …and that was enough!
  5. But, no matter how difficult this book was
  6. …I never gave up.
  7. I knew there had to be some ‘gems’
  8. of wisdom waiting for me.
  9. Pascal was a genius in his time.
  10. He excelled in science and mathematics
  11. …before his turn to religion.
  12. Pensées captures his insights in elegant
  13. pithy (difficult) phrases.
  14. His words at times went over my head (existential)
  15. …but at other times his words went straight to my heart.
  16. I will end with one of his most famous quotes:
  17. “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point”
  18. The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.


Last thoughts:

  1. Yes, I had thoughts….about Pascal’s thoughts!
  2. Here are a few things I jotted down while reading.
  3. This is a  #Classic…and I am glad I can
  4. …say I have a general idea what it is about!


Humor: (pg 51)

The causes and effects of love:
… if Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter
….it would have changed the face of the world!


Faith: …beautifully said! (pg 55) 

Faith is in our heart and
makes us NOT say I know….but I believe.


Literary devices:

Chiasmus: (pg 66)

The sentence is grammatically the same, even when it is reversed!

Peu de chose nous console parce que
Peu de chose nous afflige

A few things console us because
A few things distress us



I skipped a few long discussions
about imagination vs reason….it was just too long
too complicated. (pg 66-73) Forgive me
pyrrhonism – I skipped pg 113 – 119… Forgive me…
disproportion of man – I skipped pg 161 – 171… Forgive me…
These are not ‘short thoughts’ (pensées)they are small essays!
that are difficult in English…not to mention in French.


Style Pascalienne:

Pascal uses (…what I call) 1-2-3 — 3-2-1 logic!

The words are reversed to give another meaning.
This ‘redoubles’ its complexity!
I have to read these fragments very slowly and let the thought sink in!
Here is an example:

Il soit force (1) d’obéir (2) à la justice. (3)
Il soit juste (3) d’obéir (2) à la force. (1)

It is forced to obey justice
…it is just to obey force.   (pg 93)


Amusement (pg 121)

Men attempt to forget their misery
rather than find true happiness.
Only amusement permits him to flee
…his tragic existence.

Religion: (pg 151)

  • There are a few true Christians.
    There are those who believe
  • …but through superstition.
    There are those who do not believe
  • through the lack of moral restraint.
    Few are in between

Religion: (pg 154)

Faith says what the senses cannot say

not the contrary of what they (senses) say.
Faith is well above…and not against.


Thought: (Pensée) (pg171)

Our dignity is contained in the mind (pensée)
It is there that we pick ourselves up again….
Try to think.




Non fiction: Worst book 2018!



I cannot for the life of me understand the high
scores this booked has accrued on

Reading books that numb my soul
teach me to appreciate how
a good book can change a life!

This books wins the prize.
Worst non-fiction I read in 2018
and here is why…


  • If you have the time….here are my notes.
  • If you decide to skip this review
  • …I understand completely!


At Table In Paris:

  1. Liebling studied in Paris 1925-1926 and
  2. traveled around Normandy etc.
  3. The stories are filled with references
  4. to buildings and streets he knows well.


Paris the First:

  1. Liebling describes his visit to Paris with his parents in 1911
  2. He was 7 years old…and I wonder if a child is a reliable narrator.
  3. While Liebling’s parents dine on French food and wine “en ville’
  4. …he was firmly in the care of a dreaded nanny ‘fraulëin”
  5. This chapter was quaint but awful.
  6. It was an overblown narrative about childhood memories and
  7. fantasies with nanny and family in Paris.
  8. I lost interest about half way through the story.
  9. I hope the dispatches from the WW II years will be better.


The War and After:

  1. Unfortunately the reports written during Liebling’s time in Europe
  2. during WW II were disappointing to say the least.
  3. He is still gushing about food and wine and not
  4. enough storytelling about the people. Unbalanced.


Letter From Paris June 1940:

  1. Clinical tone…I expected more emotion describing the dread of
  2. invasion of Paris after Holland and Belgium’s swift collapse.
  3. The images I remember from Suite Française (I. Némirovsky)
  4. …are still vivd in my mind.
  5. Liebling did not come close to
  6. describing the angst the Parisians felt with the
  7. Germans standing ready to pounce on the city.


Westbound Tanker:

  1. Trip from England in convoy sailing to
  2. …Port Arthur Texas during WW II.
  3. This story was just pointless
  4. …waste of my reading time.


Quest for Mollie:

  1. This was not a WW II dispatch… was a novella!
  2. I just cannot understand the praise given to
  3. Liebling’s WW II correspondance.
  4. His stories are too long…and I cannot find a moment
  5. the hook ” that captures my attention.
  6. This is yet another chapter that I have started in good faith
  7. …and ended up being disappointed.


Days with the Daydaybay:

  1. Long description of Liebling’s
  2. ….walk around the streets of the Sorbonne.
  3. He recalls his student days there.
  4. Long description of Liebling’s entry into liberated Paris.
  5. The narrative includes his fellow reporters from other
  6. newspapers: Jack Roach and A. Morrison.
  7. This was one of the better stories….but still too, too long.
  8. Details, details and more details that numbed this reader.


The Hounds with Sad Voices:

  1. Liebling returns to Normandy (1957) and is
  2. searching for a chateau. All he can remember is
  3. the sound of hounds with sad voices near the building.
  4. But as always Liebling’s days end in restaurants.
  5. This is yet anothr gastronomic exposition….ho-hum.
  6. It is no surprise that Liebling loved his food and drink.
  7. He drank and ate excessively and reached a weight of 250 lbs.
  8. He sufferd gout in the later years of his life.
  9. He died at the young age of 59 yr.


City Life: The Jollity Building …and the rest of the stories

  1. The last half of the book describes
  2. …colorful promoters, boxers, trips to the
  3. ….Place Bar & Grill.
  4. Liebling loved the horses so we also
  5. read about the Turf & Field Club and Belmont Racetrack.
  6. Eating again…



  1. Libeling wrote for The New Yorker magazine so
  2. we can assume he was a good writer.
  3. But in my opinion the stories were too long and
  4. the pace was slow because of downpour of
  5. details that inundated this reader.
  6. Liebling’s vivid descriptions of boxing matches
  7. and other sporting events are of a bygone era.
  8. It did not interest me at all.
  9. In truth…I read 60% of the book…then skimmed the rest.
  10. I was glad when I could close the book.
  11. #SoDisappointed
  12. Reading books that numb my soul
  13. teache me to appreciate how
  14. a good book can change a life!
  15. This books wins the prize.
  16. Worst non-fiction I read in 2018….so far!

Classic: Seneca Letters From a Stoic



  1. For more information about Seneca and Stoicism
  2. …I refer you to the links in the header.
  3. This book is perfect bed-time reading.
  4. Tone is casual.
  5. Focus is on practical moral advice.
  6. Your mind can relax after a hectic day and let
  7. Seneca  bring  you back to basic thoughts about:
  8. mercy, anger, kindness, fate, happiness, and peace of mind.
  9. Strong points: writing style is full of brevity and sparkle.
  10. There are so many quotes that have lingered
  11. …too many to sum up.
  12. At the end of the book…the last letter (letter CXXIII)
  13. Seneca left me with these thoughts I use daily:


  • Nothing is burdensome if taken lightly
  • …nothing need arouse one’s irritation so long as one
  • …doesn’t make it bigger than it is by getting irritated!


  • It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants
  • …but he has it in his power not to wish
  • …for what he hasn’t got.


  1. And as a person who struggles with an aching lower back
  2. Seneca spoke to me with these words:


  • I’m deriving immeasurable satisfaction from the way  my
  • …tiredness is becoming reconcile to itself.
  • What was brought on by exertion
  • …rest is taking away.

Victor Hugo: Romancier de l’Abîme

Travailleurs de la mer





  1. If you are interested reading any books by Victor Hugo
  2. is always nice to have some back round information
  3. …you might not know!
  4. I’m reading Les Miserables  at the moment
  5. …and want to read Hugo’s
  6. Dernier jour d’un condamné
  7. Travailleurs de la mer
  8. Here are a few notes I made after reading these essays.


Structure:   11 essays

7 essays  in French
4 essays in English


Ch 2: Dernier jour d’un condamné

  1. Victor Hugo abandons ‘romanticisme noir’
  2. …in Bug-Jargal and Han d’Island.
  3. ..for romantic realism in Dernier jour d’un condamné.
  4. Hugo creates a character
  5. who presents arguments against capital punishment. (voice of V Hugo)
  6. Hugo uses the first person narrative.
  7. Trivia:…character never reveals the crime committed
  8. Trivia:…character reveals sarcastic bravoure
  9. ….rather than remorse for his crime.


Ch 6: Travailleurs de la mer

  1. In this chapter Delphine Glees draws my attention
  2. not only to Hugo’s writing Les Travalleurs de la mer
  3. but also to the drawing he made to accompany the book.
  4. Drawings do not represent the reality
  5. …but the fluctuating conditions of the sea and ships.
  6. Hugo stresses the impossibility of remaining stable in the world.

V. Hugo was also an artist


Ch 8: L’Homme qui rit

  1. This was a difficult chapter to understand
  2. because I have not read Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit.
  3. In this work Hugo uses costumes to reflect
  4. the personalities of the characters
  5. …and at times a sense of danger.
  6. Clothes are iridescent, opaque, white, black
  7. …and at time sparkling with lies!
  8. Themes Hugo often uses are:
  9. Gullibility (crédulité) of people (easily fooled)
  10. Poke fun at the grotesque – Quasimodo- in
  11. Notre-Dame de Paris …to forget their own misery.
  12. Manipulation of the aristocracy
  13. …sometimes court jesters are smarter than the king!


Ch 10: Barriers

  1. Hugo is fascinated by barriers…they are
  2. fragile, arbitrary and at times not ‘watertight’. (étanché)
  3. Barriers of the elements: Travailleurs de a mer
  4. Barriers of the social classes: Les Mis and Quatrevingt-treize
  5. Barriers that keep things out and keep thing in: Les Mis
  6. These frontiers exert pressure on the exterior and interior.
  7. The struggle between these frontiers will help humanity to advance.
  8. Hugo is interested in the shells people wear…their homes,
  9. their geographical shell (land of birth)
  10. …that may reveal their true identity.
  11. Hugo spends a great deal of time describing shells:
  12. constructions, edifices, scaffolds, walls, clothes that people wear.
  13. Shelters with barriers can be found in Les Mis:
  14. Gorgeau’s shack, the Petit-Picups convent, the house on rue Plumet
  15. …and ’l’éléphant de la Bastille.


Ch 11: Suicide

  1. Suicide is widespread in Hugo’s novels…
  2. …with the exception of Dernier jour d’un condamné.
  3. Some say Hugo’s obsession with suicide
  4. stems from the trauma of his brother’s suicide.
  5. Javert: commits suicide in Les Mis
  6. Valjean: places himself in a potentially suicidal position ( on the barricades)
  7. Trivia: Dante places suicides in the 7th circle of hell:
  8. … above Judas but beneath heretics and murderers.
  9. Suicide: the character is in an intolerable position
  10. no other way to make amends
  11. no other way of fulfilling a patriotic duty
  12. no other way of remaining faithful to one’s principles
  13. no other way of avoiding dishonour
  14. Javert: suicide represents
  15. the triumph of the spirit against the letter of the law.
  16. the triumph of humanity and love
  17. …against the blind and rigid principle.



  1. This book was like a box of chocolates
  2. …you never know what you’re going to get!
  3. Not having read all the works of Victor Hugo
  4. …some of the references went over my head.
  5. But I did manage to lean one or two things.
  6. The tone of the book is academic.
  7. Personally I think  some of the
  8. illustrious authors still need to ask themselves:
  9. Is this really good writing?
  10. Chapter 9  by Yves Gohin was an example.
  11. His  analysis is impressive
  12. …but his style of writing left much to be desired.
  13. Gohin  creates never-ending sentences that are
  14. impossible to read and grasp his concepts.
  15. He uses too many independent clauses.
  16. Gohin had something worthwhile to say
  17. …but his  thoughts ramble clumsily from one to other
  18. …using sentence fragments that
  19. left ‘this reader’ exhausted and confused.