Required Reading: 5 Great Essays from Summer 2010

In the virtual and hardcopy seas of so much slush, Good Writing is a rare and rarefied feat commensurate with Good Conversation or Good Sportsmanship or Good Sex. It is, to say the least, all any of us can ask for.

And while no aspiring author would shirk a spot on the New York Times list of best sellers, there’s no accounting for taste. (Chelsea Handler’s memoir of one-night stands has enjoyed a consecutive 90-week run!) The sad fact is, sometimes great writing goes under-acknowledged, or unacknowledged, when it deserves just so much more attention.

This summer, I’ve read a spot-on culture critique, a damning book review, a powerful piece of political rock-reportage, and an intelligent response to an equally informed and informative bit of social commentary. All wonderfully well written, and only one broke the bubble of public consciousness.

Here, I’ve selected five distinct essays worthy of your reading time. I doubt you’ve read them yet – except for, maybe, the one; but catching CNN’s coverage doesn’t equate to an actual read-through.

‘Have We All Gone Completely Nuts?’ – By Stephen Marche

In the August 2010 issue of Esquire, Stephen Marche contemplates the modern condition: “America spends the eight hours and eighteen minutes a day that the average household devotes to television sympathizing with and judging the mentally ill.” Sighting such spectacular sensations as the A&E rehab/recovery show Intervention, misogynistic Mel Gibson’s proliferation of leaked audio, Dr. Drew Pinsky’s Celebrity Rehab, Tiger Woods, Dr. Phil, The DSM V et al., Marche’s piece is a well vetted and pitch-perfect print-form play on the hyperlink-heavy internet essays of late.

‘The Runaway General – By Michael Hastings

This summer, thanks to Michael Hastings’s first ever piece for RollingStone, BigJournalism had its moment. The story was a smash success, with just about every political pundit profiling this profile of a military madman. In fact, the media blitz began before the magazine’s July 8-22 issue had even hit the stands. But having the story rehashed and reviewed by ABC, NBC, MSNBC, FOX, CNN – and the White House! – is no excuse to skip the full article. Hastings’s critical, career-spanning profile of the now dismissed general, a war-zone weirdo who eats one meal a day and listens to books on tape, is a startling exposé on a war for which “[w]inning, it would seem, is not really possible.”

‘Book Review: Della: A Memoir of My Daughter’ – By Chuck Barris, Reviewed by Tim Rutton

Books, even very bad books, are seldom reviewed with the kind of effervescent outrage and unsparing slander Tim Rutton unleashes on Della. At his most mild, Rutton says of the memoir: “It is, by turns, appalling, self-pitying, self-righteous and – in many instances – frankly unbelievable.” At his most mercurial, the reviewer confides: “…it is difficult to understand how a reputable house like Simon & Schuster came to publish this wretched volume.” The LA Times – forever the bridesmaid to the NYT’s bride – did well by Rutton, who makes Michiko Kakutani sound, comparatively, like Mother Theresa.

‘Love, Actually’ – By Caitlin Flanagan

In The Atlantic’s June 2010 issue, Flanagan opines on the current state of girl culture––hookup culture. Bringing into her discussion such talking points as Woodstock, Taylor Swift, the 2005 Milton Academy “sex party” and Anita Shreve’s novel Testimony, Flanagan’s plaint is this: “There might seem something wan, even pitiable, about all these young girls pining for boyfriends instead of hookups. But the wishes of girls … have always been among the most powerful motivators in the lives of young men. They still are.”

‘The Boyfriend Myth’ – By Sady Doyle

In her June 1st blog post for The Atlantic online, Doyle responds to Caitlin Flanagan’s ‘Love, Actually.’ Her essay is a modest proposal, in praise of the pro-hookup teenager. Doyle cites Gloria Steinem, excerpting the feminist’s famous mantra (“[A woman needs a man] like a fish needs a bicycle”), Playboy, and a 2005 study on abusive teen-relationships. She doesn’t refute Flanagan’s entire essay, the point upon which the writer hinges her rebuttal is this: “boys aren’t treating girls badly because they have sex; they’re treating them badly because we live in a culture that encourages disrespect toward girls.” Doyle offers a provocative and persuasive counterpoint.

Of course, when you’re want for Good Writing, there’s always SlushPileHell, where a “grump literary agent wades through query fails.” Go there to commiserate.
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