Essential Essays

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This collection highlights that most mysterious and indefinable of genres: the essay. D. H. Lawrence is best known for the famously salacious Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but his bibliography abounds with nonfictional gems about every topic imaginable. The Bad Side of Books, a collection of his essays curated by Geoff Dyer, showcases his remarkable mind and powerful prose, no matter the subject. I Used to Be Charming, meanwhile, collects the best of LA icon Eve Babitz’s lesser-known journalism from the 1970s to the 1990s. Among the wide-ranging selection are pieces on The Doors’ Jim Morrison, the filming of The Godfather Part II, and much more—as well as the previously unpublished title essay, which recounts the near-fatal accident she suffered in 1996.

Dwight Macdonald’s Masscult and Midcult gathers the most incendiary essays from a great polemicist of the postwar era. His controversial title essay takes aim at the allure of anodyne middlebrow fiction (among which he counts Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). In Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish, the novelist Tom McCarthy offers his own insights on the art that shapes our world. He examines the likes of James Joyce and Franz Kafka alongside David Lynch and MC Hammer.

War and the Iliad features two celebrated perspectives on Homer’s epic by two brilliant French philosophers, Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, which The Atlantic has called “the twentieth century’s most beloved, tortured, and profound responses to the world’s greatest and most disturbing poem.” Both pieces, written around the time of the Second World War, call urgently for peace. Daniel Mendelsohn’s Ecstasy and Terror is another look to the Greeks to make sense of our present. His essays masterfully connect the Aeneid and the Bacchae to today—and the Boston Marathon bombings and assassination of JFK to the most ancient of tragedies.