Essays From In Between
A few weeks ago I wrote about the publishers and their imprints and how one particular editor from one particular imprint has sent me books directly that I’ve really enjoyed.
When Jordan Kisner was a child, she was saved by Jesus Christ a summer camp, much to the confusion of her nonreligious family. She was, she writes, “just naturally reverent,” a fact that didn’t change when she – much to her own confusion – lost her faith as a teenager. Not sure why her religious conviction had come or where it had gone, she did what anyone would do: “you go about the great American work of assigning yourself to other gods: yoga, talk radio, neoatheism, CrossFit, cleanses, football, the academy, the American Dream, Beyonce.”
A curiosity about the subtle systems guiding contemporary life pervades Kisner’s work. Her celebrated essay “Thin Places,” about an experimental neurosurgery developed to treat severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, asks how putting the neural touchpoint of the soul on a pacemaker may collide science and psychology with philosophical questions about illness, the limits of the self, and spiritual transformation. How should she understand the appearance of her own obsessive compulsive disorder at the very age she lost her faith?
If Leslie Jamison’s essay collection, Make It Scream, Make It Burn, is for the masses, Jordan Kisner’s Thin Places is for the hyper aware literary millennial in the midst of an existential crisis. These two essay collections defined my reading around the holidays last year and they couldn’t be more different, despite their general similarities.
All essay collections are personal – whether written by journalist or memoirist, it’s incredibly difficult to not classify an essay collection as a memoir as well. At the store, it’s next to impossible to decide where they should go, and I’ve long wanted an essay section, even it is only one shelf, it would just be a shelf of all my favorites. Some, like Rebecca Solnit and Lindy West, are in sociology, Sy Montomgery lives in nature, and the others, if there aren’t any other compelling genres we can put them in, are split between classic literature or memoir/biography.
Jordan and Leslie’s collections both live in memoir. Where Leslie’s essays start in observation of the world around her and lead to personal reflection on herself, Jordan starts with her own experiences and uses them to paint a picture of how those experiences related to the greater world around her.
At the store, we play the “book game” every morning (well, when we’re at the store and it’s open) – everyone who opens has to pick out a book on the shelves to tell their coworkers about. Thankfully, I do the most reading at the store or I would be incredibly stressed having to come up with a new book five days a week! Point being, though, that when I picked Thin Places and started comparing it to my other favorite essay collection (they’re still next to each other on my shelf in the staff picks section of the store) and described the nuances of their differences, my coworkers eyes glazed over.
Needless to say, I’m pretty much the only essay reader. One of our seasonal employees, and a close friend, reads them as well, but that means that it’s only during the summer that I have anyone to geek out with over the wonderful intricacies of a great essay collection. So I shall geek out here – Jordan’s collection is beautifully curated and her writing is lyrical and engaging.
I think it is the perfect read for the world’s current state. and I’ve gone back and read some of my favorite pieces in the last few weeks and was surprised to realize I hadn’t yet written a review for it. It’s easy to get lost in, but at the same time, essay collections are great for readers who find their attention spans not being particularly long at the present moment.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent bookstore, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.