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“The essay, as a literary form, is pretty well extinct,” Philip Larkin wrote gloomily in 1984.Extinct was the right word, capturing the sense of an organism that could no longer survive in a changed environment.Crosley, too, fills her stories with implausible comic details, like the friend who got married and changed her last name to “Universe.” When Crosley retails her experiences as a bad employee or a bad volunteer at a museum, however, the reader is tempted to respond with judgment rather than laughter. In her essay “The Ursula Cookie,” from her first book I Was Told There'd Be Cake: Essays"The bad impression is confirmed when Crosley chooses September 11, 2001, as the day to hand in her resignation, and goes to a job interview the very next day. “How could I have gone through with a job interview at such a time?
It is also the way he continually confesses to bad behavior and bad motives, which, if taken as literally true, would make him a despicable person.
In his essay “I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed,” Sedaris writes about seeing a woman trapped in a Ferris wheel accident, and his immediate reaction is to congratulate himself on witnessing such an interesting event.
Formally, one might describe the work of Sedaris, Crosley, Rothbart, and company as autobiographical comic narrative: short, chatty, funny stories about things that happened to me—weird things, or ordinary things that are made weird in the telling.
What we now call an essayist used to be called a humorist.
The subjects in The Oxford Book of Essays" to Mill on Coleridge, are engaged with texts, which is to say, with other minds.
For the essay is one of the purest ways for a writer’s mind to record its own motions, which are the basis of prose style.Sedaris’s books are sold as essays, but he is plainly trying to be Thurber, not Addison.This is a particular kind of humor, rooted in the creation of a fictional alter ego who shares the author’s name.“It belonged to an age when reading—reading almost anything—was the principal entertainment of the educated class,” Larkin argued, an appetite that “called for a plethora of dailies, weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies, all having to be filled.” Now it is television and the movies that cry out for ever more “content,” while the lush Victorian ecosystem has thinned out to half-a-dozen serious magazines, most of which have only slightly more appetite for essays than for that other obsolete form, the short story.It is strange, then, to look around a quarter-century after Larkin and discover that we are living in a golden age of essays, or of ruminative writings that call themselves essays.Books of essays regularly turn up on the best-seller lists; many of their authors are stars on the radio, especially on the cult program “This American Life.” In the HBO show “Girls,” the character portrayed by Lena Dunham declared her ambition to become a writer and “the voice of my generation,” but she did not hope to write the Great American Novel: she wanted to produce a book of essays.Here as in so many of its details, “Girls” proves to be a faithful stenographer of its moment.If Sedaris said he had an impatient French teacher, we would believe him, but not be very interested.When he says that his teacher “singled me out, saying, ‘Every day spent with you is like having a Caesarean section,’ ” we recognize not so much an experience as a one-liner, and relax into the knowledge that we are watching not a reflection but a performance.It was Wednesday morning, not ‘the day after 9/11.’ ” That is exactly wrong.The day after 9/11 was just that, and nothing else; and while doing business on such a day does not make one a monster, Crosley’s way of writing about it feels disingenuous and self-exculpatory.