How We Speak to One Another: An Essay Daily Reader
Edited by Ander Monson and Craig Reinbold
309 pages, Coffee House Press, $20.00
It is impossible to define an essay unilaterally. Essay Daily’s first collection, though it does not aim at a definition, solves that problem rather neatly. How We Speak to One Another begins with a simple premise—writers writing about essays that are important to them—and continues like any good conversation: wandering, doubling back on itself and ending less in a firm conclusion than a silence, leaving room for the reader’s own thoughts to fill that space. A gathering of forty-seven essays allows a reader to bite off chunks at a time, dip in and wander at their own pace, eavesdropping on the way, for instance, on how Matt Dube, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, and Emily DePrang agree and disagree about Joan Didion.
As in any anthology, some essays work better than others. There are a few gems dealing with a single book or essay. Elena Passarello’s whimsical consideration of the equally whimsical, ever-changing Book of Days by Robert Chambers, for instance, is one of the most delightful in the book. On the whole, however, the best essays do more than consider how or why a certain piece works, and instead make the reader a participant in the conversation, rather than a voyeur. They struggle, as Rigoberto González and Lucas Mann do, with writing nonfiction as young people. They consider, as Megan Kimble does, the economy of writing, technology, labor, and personal relationships. They might consider something particular, as Maya Kapoor does with David Quammen’s use of trout, but they expand to something broader, such as the use of the body in research.
At times, the editors’ hands in the construction of this conversation is a little too obvious—placing Pam Houston’s consideration of a Sports Illustrated column on O. J. Simpson next to Dave Mondy’s examination of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, for instance, makes the conversation focus too heavily on sports writing when both writers struggle with much more. Yet, for the most part, How We Speak to One Another is a well-arranged collection of essays, showcasing a variety of forms, opinions on nearly every major debate about the essay and a panel of writers of various genders and races. As a result, this book becomes something like Chambers’s Book of Days—a place where the reader will find something new each time, whether it’s a reminder of the important intersections between time and place, or simply the fact that bathtubs can reveal important things about truth in the essay.
Rukmini Girish is working towards her MFA in Nonfiction at Columbia College Chicago. She is also a contributing editor at Floodmark, a website dedicated to providing inspiration for writers outside academia. Her work has appeared in East End Elements, and on BUST.com.