A lot of people have their first experience reading essays in school, so it doesn't surprise me when I hear someone say they don't like them. An avid essay lover myself, I urge people to understand: No, you don't actually hate essays, you just haven't read the right one to get you out of your genre rut. Even if you stand by your hatred of essay collections, I'm telling you, there are books you would love if only you gave them a try.
Essays aren't just the boring, dreadful excerpts of your high school standardized tests. They can can be exciting and dramatic, funny and light-hearted, or powerful and thought-provoking. Essays are stories and so much more. They examine culture, explore humanity, and if the essayist is good, make you feel something while you read it. They'll show you people or culture or politics in a different light and ask you to question everything you know. What can I say, essay collections — despite what you think — are wonderful, limitless books, and they're just waiting for you to fall in love with them.
You're still not convinced, I know. Here are 11 nonfiction books to read if you think you hate essay collections, because I promise you, you don't actually hate them, you just haven't found your favorite yet.
1. A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
A slim yet thought-provoking collection from the author who brought you Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country is a hilarious, honest, and witty collection. With his signature sarcasm, Vonnegut covers everything from politics to family to writing as he serves up an amusing glimpse at the human condition like no other author can. If you like humor but aren't sure about essays, this collection just might make up your mind for you.
2. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
You love The Mindy Project but think you hate essays? Think again, because Mindy Kaling's uproarious yet deeply personal collection Why Not Me? will become your new favorite book if you give it a try. Reading Kaling is like talking with your best friend about everything from beauty standards to feminism to that cute coworker you can't stop thinking about. Insightful, intimate, and incredible readable, Why Not Me? will change the way you think of essays.
3. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
If you're too busy reading the classics to give essays a try, you haven't found The Common Reader yet. Virginia Woolf's first volume of essays covers topics ranging from her own literary philosophy to the best reading practices, and like the title would indicate, these essays aren't just for academic and high-brow readers, but for the everyday reader — yes, that includes you. If you enjoy literature, you will love this collection.
4. Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti
Get ready to feel all the feels, because in his collection of 17 essays, Love and Other Ways of Dying, author Michael Materniti goes straight to the heart of things. Whether he is describing a childhood accident, a suicide attempt, or a plane crash, Paterniti is able to make something beautiful come out of heartbreaking tragedy with his eloquent prose and moving storytelling. For anyone who thinks essay collection are boring, think again, because Love and Other Ways of Dying is anything but.
5. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Speaking of getting to the heart of things, Leslie Jamison's highly acclaimed collection, The Empathy Exams, the human condition, especially pain and humility, with a keen, observant eye and a whole lot of feeling. Smart, poignant, and eye-opening, Jamison's collection has something for everyone, so even if you swear you don't read essays, you are bound to like one in this groundbreaking book.
6. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
A modern master of essay writing, David Sedaris is at his finest (and funniest) in his 2013 collection, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls . His essays read like fiction with characters so outrageous and stories so unlikely, you will forget you're reading nonfiction just a few pages into the book. Once you remember it's actually essays you're devouring, you'll finally give into the genre. Just embrace it.
7. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
Though she is best known for her fiction, Zadie Smith's essay writing is just as moving, just as charming, and just as lyrical as any one of her novels. It's like looking through the eyes of Smith herself while she explores the subjects of literature and art, of politics and pop culture, family and feminism, and everything in between. Changing My Mind is the perfect gateway into essays for readers who are true book-lovers, or even writers themselves.
8. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
If your interest in David Foster Wallace is still piqued thanks to Jason Segel's portrayal of the author in this summer's End of the Tour, reach for this essay collection before you reread Infinite Jest. From literary theory to modern movies, David Foster Wallace's seven essays will delight and entertain as much, if not more so, than his fiction. They're smart, perceptive, and they will prove to you the literary merit of essays. Yeah, they're that good.
9. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Diddion
Perhaps one of the greatest voices in modern essay writing, no essay collection round-up would be complete without including Joan Didion, even if it's a round up for essay-haters. Slouching Towards Bethlehem , one of Didion's most beloved works, takes readers back to 1960s America, where the counterculture reigned supreme, and into the heart of modern American life. Even if you hate essays, there is no way you can hate the remarkable writing of Didion.
10. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Since you have undoubtedly found yourself in a conversation that involves mansplaining, you will absolutely love Rebecca Solnit's biting, humorous collection that deals with everything from the way men and women communicate to marriage equality to violence against women. At times laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes serious, Men Explain Things to Me is a sharp investigation into modern misogyny and women's equality that you won't be able to stop talking about, even if you "hate" essays.
11. Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
Though not strictly essays, Maya Angelou's collection, Letter to My Daughter , is the perfect inspirational read for people who aren't sure if essays are their thing. Part poetry, part memoir, part essays, this book is bursting with advice from one of the greatest, most talented voices in literature. A book to be enjoyed again an again, if Maya Angelou's work can't put you on the pro-essay side of the argument, I don't know what will.