ON OPENING THE OLDEST VOLUME OF THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS:
"I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel it like a stab when I open an old paperback and the binding comes apart with that sound of cracking glue. What had been whole has suddenly been rent and of course I extrapolate in all directions. It’s clear as can be that the world is going to hell...It was when I then opened—cracked—the cover that I felt the whole thing break loose in my hand...An insult, an injury—it was as if a part of the past itself had just calved away from the mother berg. But the mind on assignment is uncannily opportunistic. I had not even set the book aside before I was starting to sketch a notion in my head. The breakage, I thought, was a sign...The observant nit-picker following along at home will have noticed by now that I am only looking to odd-numbered right-facing pages. I do so because I can hold these pages flat while supporting the left side of the book between index and fore-finger, thereby not aggravating the problem of the glue-shattered spine any further."
AND ON READING IT:
"Having staked myself on writing about Robert Atwan’s debut volume—edited by Elizabeth Hardwick—I asked myself what there was to say? Decades have passed, Ms. Hardwick has passed away, my copy of the book has all but fallen apart in my hands…Yet—here’s my lead: when I now see it here on the table next to me, I feel an old and familiar stirring of interest and possibility. The word 'essay' still gets to me. But there’s also some stirring memory of what’s inside the covers, and knowing how I’ll feel when I start reading the pieces again. This is what we know about the best writing—reading does not use it up; it keeps its power. This not by virtue of the reader’s forgetfulness, but through its own intrinsic merit. The right words in the right order are that way because they can be encountered again and again. Real work does not melt away when the eye registers it."