Essay Library

There are currently 100 essays in the Library – please come in and browse.

Use the ‘additional suggestions’ box to tell us if your favourite essay or author is missing, or comment boxes on each essay’s page to discuss the selection, including where you feel we should have selected another essay by the same author. We will expand the Essay Library in future, using suggestions and comments received. Example intro length, with link to more if needed.

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Field (1971, reprinted in About Looking, 1980, and Selected Essays ed. Geoff Dyer, 2001)

by John Berger

1971

An essay resisting paraphrase as it attempts to define an experience ‘seldom referred to only because it is nameless’. It begins with poetic description of how a momen...

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At Table and In Bed (1971, and reprinted in Convergences, trans. Helen Lane, 1987)

by Octavio Paz

1971

Paz essays usually make historical approaches, but here he approaches the United States as subject through a Utopia, that of Fourier, involving perspectives of ‘Erotics and Gastr...

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On Keeping a Notebook (1966, and collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)

by Joan Didion

1966

Full of puzzlement at cryptic jottings in her old notebooks, and the film-clip memories they eventually trigger, Didion’s essay is a meditation on modern consciousness, how to ha...

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Notes on Camp (The Partisan Review, and collected in Against Interpretation)

by Susan Sontag

1964

Sontag modestly called this, her most influential essay, ‘jottings’ because it comprises numbered points, but it is certainly an essay in the experimental sense: testing what i...

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Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in my Mind (New Yorker, and reprinted in The Fire Next Time)

by James Baldwin

1963

Baldwin wrote this long essay amidst the Civil Rights Movement, but it speaks forcefully to post-9/11 preoccupations. Structured around two autobiographical passages – h...

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Miles Apart (1961, and collected in Profiles, ed. Ernie Eban, 1990)

by Kenneth Tynan

1961

This profile of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis begins with musical history and critique, then describes ‘Miles in the flesh’: his extreme egotism and disdain for the British, yet t...

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The Eggman and the Fairies (First published in The Twentieth Century, July 1960, and collected in Escape from the Anthill, 1986)

by Hubert Butler

1960

Butler locates this essay in his own backyard – Tipperary’s hill of Slievenaman – and talks as if we are his neighbours, who already know local Irish legends well. H...

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The Little Virtues (Le piccolo virtu, written 1960, published in Nuovi Argomenti, and reprinted in her collection named after this essay, trans. Dick Davis, 1985)

by Natalia Ginzburg

1960

Written in the inclusive pronoun (‘We’), yet sometimes asserting singularity (‘Now I believe…’), Ginzburg lectures movingly on the error of teaching children little, risk...

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The Duke in his Domain (The New Yorker)

by Truman Capote

1957

Capote’s profile of Marlon Brando is framed by an evening in a Kyoto hotel when Brando was filming on location. Aside from Peter-Selleresque racisms, the tone is beautifully judg...

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The Venetian Pariah (Le Séquestré de Venise, originally published in Les Temps Modernes, No.141, 1957, and reprinted in English in Situations, IV, trans. Benita Eisler, 1963)

by Jean-Paul Sartre

1957

De Beauvoir said this piece, at the aesthetic end of Sartre’s spectrum, was to be a book-length study of the Renaissance painter Tintoretto, foreshortened because Sartre disliked...

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Some Blind Alleys: A Letter (Originally published in French in La tentation d’exister, 1956, and in English translation in The Temptation to Exist, 1968 and 1987 Quartet edition with an introduction by Susan Sontag)

by E.M. Cioran

1956

A Romanian intellectual discourages an aspiring author. Intending to shock, Cioran spews vitriol over the twentieth century addiction to confessional, therapeutic self-expression, ...

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Why My Mother Was Frightened of Cats (Written 1956, published in The Essential Rebecca West: Uncollected Prose, 2010)

by Rebecca West

1956

Despite her affinity with feline independence, intelligence and elegance, West owned a cat only late in life and this arch but tender piece is the result. Full of gentle, ...

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