Essays. The word still makes me cringe for it produces a flashback to my high school days when the teacher would assign the class to write up an essay on some subject or other, usually something you were not interested in. Essays meant research. It meant time spent in the library (no Internet then). It meant writing. And writing to get to the necessary word count. In short, essays were boring. So when Best Canadian Essays 2018 (Tightrope Books) arrived in my mailbox, I cringed. Well, I needn’t for these essays are definitely not like the rambling, long-winded essays I was used to reading.
When Tightrope Books claims these are the “best” essays written in the 2018 calendar year, they are not just blowing hot air. There are seventeen skillfully written essays on all sorts of topics here. In the Preface, Series Editor Christopher Doda outlines the process he and Guest Editor Mark Kingwell undertook to get down to these few gems out of the many to be considered. After dividing up the journals to be considered for material, they begin reading. Mr. Doda states: “We do the majority of the reading in January – March, in an intensive burst. I like to joke that during this period I know everything; no matter what topic of conversation I’m around I will have a legitimate opinion. In short, I become Google.”
The collection bursts out of the gate with Peter Babiak’s “The Future is the Period at the End of a Sentence” in which he as a teacher of English Literature decries his student’s lack of knowing the basics of grammar: “Just as we shouldn’t learn how to drive without knowing traffic rules, we don’t know language without understanding even at the simplest level that sentences are made of subjects, verbs and objects.”
Omar Mouallem’s “Homeland for the Holidays” documents his three-week journey to Lebanon, the country of his parent’s birth. His route takes him through London, Salzburg, Krakow, Tel Aviv and finally, Bethlehem. “..during this year’s sesquicentennial celebrations I felt only a twinge of pride for my homeland [Canada] and nothing resembling the romance my parents feel for theirs, however flawed it was.” The conclusion he comes to after his sojourn was enlightening. This was for me one of “best of the best” essays contained in Best Canadian Essays 2018.
Two other thought-provoking essays stand out: “Post-Heroism?” by Richard Teleky and the brief, but direct “Stuck in the Moment” by Clive Thompson. The former addresses the idea of what the term “hero” actually entails in this post-modern, even post-human age. The latter looks at social media (such as Twitter) that employ reverse chron which Mr. Thompson says is “sucking us into the day-to-day drama of whatever’s blowing up online right now.”
These are just a few highlights from this deeply thoughtful publication that was thoroughly enjoyable to read from cover to cover. Some may refer to essays as “creative non-fiction” which I think is a more friendly (and marketable) term. I just wish this term existed when I went to school; perhaps essay-writing would have been more enjoyable.
Best Canadian Essays 2018 by Christopher Doda (Series Editor) and Mark Kingwell (Guest Editor)
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