"Surely, most of us can understand the difference between accessing a text and reading it, and the essay, with its flexible structure, nuanced language, and leisurely pace, is still the ideal form for slow reading."


"The essays chosen by these editors do not seem “dated” because the problems the writers tackled haven’t gone away (in fact, most are with us in a more serious way), and with that comes the need for even slower thinking, reading, writing, and understanding."


"The essays I taught in 2000 are annotated in green ink. In class, I must have pointed out the writers’ strategies in story-telling and argumentation, the choices they made in style (my favorite sentences are underlined with a star next to them: I must have read them aloud in class), the evocative details they used, the sly way they managed to avoid going down narrative or ideological paths in which they might have gotten hopelessly lost, while still giving the impression that everything important has been covered. At least that’s what I assume from the notes. I can’t recall a single lesson I’d planned. I was afraid of my students because no matter what I said about the essays in the book or about the essays they wrote, no one ever seemed surprised. A few were clearly worried from time to time, but that’s not the same thing. I remember wishing that at least one student, just once or twice a semester, would allow herself or himself to appear naïve or clueless: that is to say, taken aback by some information or advice she or he didn’t already know.


"The culmination of the repeated journey isn’t control, sophistication, or mastery. In [Mary Gordon's] moment [in "Rome: The Visible City"] of joy, or grace, this narrator is overtaken by surprise. She is at once wise and clueless. That—I think—was what I wanted my students in 2000 to understand."


"Revisiting Gordon’s essay about revisiting Rome, re-reading Gass’s essay about re-reading his favorite books, I am taking a tour of my own past as well as the essays’. I can return to the pleasure of weaving and un-weaving the same cloth (the point of Penelope’s task, I remember, was NOT to finish)."

Read the rest of this wonderful essay here!

AuthorJohn Proctor