To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

by katystreet

By Phillip Lopate.

I got this book because I’m interested in getting better at writing personal essays. I’m not sure if this book will help me with that. Maybe.

It reads mostly as a series of opinions, which is fine, the author seems to know what he’s talking about. He also seems interested in reading and writing the kinds of essays I’m interested in, ones in which the author does serious thinking around some problem or event, generally a personal one. The chapters are fairly scattered with no real logical progression that I could gather. It’s a scattershot of thoughts about things like how to end an essay and how to ethically write about people in your lives.

There is a second section in which he discusses various famous essayists, which I enjoyed and gave me a good sense of classics I should be reading. He talked about Hazlitt, Lamb, Emerson, Baldwin and Hoagland. He also at various points in the first section attributes the birth of the personal essay to Montaigne.

I think the main thing I remember him talking about which I want to do better is giving the reader a sense of the author’s profile at the beginning of the essay. He says the reader needs to know some basic things about you – age, location, gender, demographic, race – in order to understand your personal essay since it’s about you. He says it can be hard to include these things elegantly, but it’s important. I agree.

Overall not exactly the book I was looking for but an easy and enjoyable read.