You can say what you want about the state of the publishing industry, or how and
what the teens are reading these days, or the myriad ways in which YouTube and Twitter have conspired to ruin our attention spans/novels/global democracy, but one fact remains to be true: people still read essays. And as we reach the end of one terrifying year and teeter on the precipice of another, here are a few great essays to read if you want to kick off your 2019 with confidence and introspection.
Now, for the sake of this list, I am not going to be too precious about what "counts" as an essay. Your English teacher may insist on five paragraphs and no "I" statements, but I am not your English teacher (that I know of). Some of these pieces are long, some are short, some were published decades ago in print newspapers (remember those?), some are technically advice columns or chopped up into listicle headers because that is the way that we all have to write now in order to earn money to feed our cats. All of them have something valuable to tell you are you steel yourself for another years of ups and downs and everything in between:
1 'Ava DuVernay on How to "Pivot Towards Positivity" in Trying Times' by Ava DuVernay
2018 was a hard year for many people! 2019 will be a hard year for many people! How does one stay positive in the midst of trying times? Well, for you, you can read the words of filmmaker Ava DuVernay on finding light even when things are feeling very, very dark.
Click here to read. 2 'Crying in H Mart' by Michelle Zauner
It doesn't really matter whether it's the start of the year or the end of the year: grieving for the loss of a loved one is a process that doesn't follow a set schedule. If you found yourself frequently breaking down in grocery stores in 2018, and you'd like to feel a little less alone in 2019, then read Michelle Zauner's beautiful piece on coping with loss and a sense of identity through the fraught art of food shopping.
Click here to read. 3 'Positive Obsession' by Octavia Butler
This is a classic, and a must-read for any young (or old, or in-between) people who find themselves stuck at a crossroads, unsure of whether or not to follow their passion. Octavia Butler shares her own perilous journey of discovering books and deciding to be a writer, no matter what obstacles stood in her way.
Click here to read. 4 'How to Be Alone and Only Mildly Hate and Lukewarm Love It' by Phoebe Robinson
New Year's Eve is just one of oh-so-many holidays specifically designed to make single people feel terrible about their singleness. If you're heading into the new year feeling a little bit lost and lonely about your relationship status, then allow hilarious essayist Phoebe Robinson to set you straight with these tips on how to be single and kind of only a little bit hate it.
Click here to read an excerpt. 5 'Here is New York' by E.B. White
You don't have to actually live in New York to appreciate the greatest essay ever written about the Big Apple. Sure, E.B. White creates a staggering and singular portrait of a city that is somehow still deeply relevant to New Yorkers over half a century later. But his essay is also relevant to anyone else living in a large, melting-pot urban center during a frightening time in global politics.
Click here to read. 6 'Fat Girl Cries Herself to Sleep at Night: an Illustrated Essay' by Natalie Lima
You'd think that bathing suit season would be the annual height of body-shaming and self-punishing eating habits, but no! The holidays tend to be full of fat-phobic relatives and "resolutions" about dieting and weight loss in the new year. It's emotionally exhausting. If you're feeling a lot of stress and shame about your physical existence this season, it's time to read this lovely, heart-wrenching essay on living in a human body.
Click here to read. 7 'I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It' by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Every year is a great year to get real about the systemic violence that is woven into the very fabric of the United States of America! Let's all make 2019 the year that we face up to America's bigoted past and present, starting with Viet Thanh Nguyen's painfully honest essay about loving a country that is so full of hate.
Click here to read. 8 'The Future Has an Ancient Heart' by Cheryl Strayed
Sometimes, we all just need a really excellent pep talk from a really excellent advice columnist. Dear Sugar (a.k.a Cheryl Strayed) offers this electrifying graduation speech for English majors, but it's applicable to anyone and everyone who's feeling a little (or a lot) unmoored and uncertain about what the future might hold.
Click here to read. 9 'Dry January: A Failure' by Scaachi Koul
Ah, January! The month when everyone puts undue pressure on themselves to become an extremely chill and relaxed and thin and detoxed and sober and perfect uber-human in the span of thirty days. If you're attempting Dry January and not necessarily having a great or easy time, then you absolutely must read this essay on trying and failing to "cleanse" oneself in the new year.
Click here to read. 10 'I Won’t Be Marginalized by Online Harassment' by Kelly Marie Tran
The fun thing about living on the internet is that we get to read great essays and share funny pictures of housepets. The bad thing about living on the internet is that it's a viper's nest full of sad, cruel men who enjoy bullying strangers for fun. National treasure and
Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran speaks out against online harassment in this lovely essay about accepting oneself, no matter what the haters say. Click here to read. 11 'New Year's Eve' by Charles Lamb
Lastly, of course... why not read an essay about the intoxicating re-birth that we all experience every year on New Year's Eve? This is an old one, and certainly dated, but it's a vintage reminder that the end of December is always a good opportunity for starting things over with a clean slate.
Click here to read.