Cover Essays

Excerpts from After Montaigne

Of Wearing My Red Dress [after “Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes”]

BARRIE JEAN BORICH is the author of Body Geographic, published in the American Lives Series of the University of Nebraska Press and winner of a Lambda Literary Award in Memoir, an IPPY Gold Medal in Essay/Creative Nonfiction, and Foreword Review’s 2013 IndieFab Bronze Award for Essays. Her previous book, My Lesbian Husband, won the American Library Association Stonewall Book Award, and her work has been named Notable in The Best American Essays and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is a faculty member of the English Department and the ma in Writing & Publishing program at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she edits Slag Glass City, a creative nonfiction and new media journal focused on sustainability, identity, and art in urban environments. She teaches courses in creative nonfiction writing, literary journals, and the future of the book.

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Of Three Commerces

We must not rivet ourselves so fast to our humours and complexions: our chiefest sufficiency is to know how to apply ourselves to divers employments. ‘Tis to be, but not to live, to keep a man’s self tied and bound by necessity to one only course; those are the bravest souls that have in them […]

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Of Constancy

The law of resolution and constancy does not imply that we ought not, as much as in us lies, to decline and secure ourselves from the mischiefs and inconveniences that threaten us; nor, consequently, that we shall not fear lest they should surprise us: on the contrary, all decent and honest ways and means of […]

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Of Cato the Younger

[“I am not possessed with this common errour, to judge of others according to what I am my selfe. I am easie to beleeve things differing from my selfe. Though I be engaged to one forme, I do not tie the world unto it, as every man doth. And I beleeve and conceive a thousand […]

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Of Giving the Lie

Well, but some one will say to me, this design of making a man’s self the subject of his writing, were indeed excusable in rare and famous men, who by their reputation had given others a curiosity to be fully informed of them. It is most true, I confess and know very well, that a […]

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Of the Most Excellent Men

If I should be asked my choice among all the men who have come to my knowledge, I should make answer, that methinks I find three more excellent than all the rest. One of them Homer: not that Aristotle and Varro, for example, were not, peradventure, as learned as he; nor that possibly Virgil was […]

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Of Quick or Slow Speech

So we see in the gift of eloquence, wherein some have such a facility and promptness, and that which we call a present wit so easy, that they are ever ready upon all occasions, and never to be surprised; and others more heavy and slow, never venture to utter anything but what they have long premeditated, and taken great care and pains to fit and prepare.

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Of Vanity

There is, peradventure, no more manifest vanity than to write of it so vainly. That which divinity has so divinely expressed to us—[“Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.”—Eccles., i. 2.]—ought to be carefully and continually meditated by men of understanding. Who does not see that I have taken a road, in which, incessantly and without […]

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Of Democritus and Heraclitus

The judgment is an utensil proper for all subjects, and will have an oar in everything: which is the reason, that in these Essays I take hold of all occasions where, though it happen to be a subject I do not very well understand, I try, however, sounding it at a distance, and finding it […]

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Nine and Twenty Sonnets of Estienne de la Boitie

TO MADAME DE GRAMMONT, COMTESSE DE GUISSEN. [They scarce contain anything but amorous complaints, expressed in a very rough style, discovering the follies and outrages of a restless passion, overgorged, as it were, with jealousies, fears and suspicions.—Coste.] [These….contained in the edition of 1588 nine-and-twenty sonnets of La Boetie, accompanied by a dedicatory epistle to […]

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That We Are to Avoid Pleasures, Even at the Expense of Life

I had long ago observed most of the opinions of the ancients to concur in this, that it is high time to die when there is more ill than good in living, and that to preserve life to our own torment and inconvenience is contrary to the very rules of nature, as these old laws […]

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Of the Affection of Fathers to Their Children

To Madame D’Estissac. MADAM, if the strangeness and novelty of my subject, which are wont to give value to things, do not save me, I shall never come off with honour from this foolish attempt: but ’tis so fantastic, and carries a face so unlike the common use, that this, peradventure, may make it pass. […]

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Of the Inconstancy of Our Actions

Such as make it their business to oversee human actions, do not find themselves in anything so much perplexed as to reconcile them and bring them into the world’s eye with the same lustre and reputation; for they commonly so strangely contradict one another that it seems impossible they should proceed from one and the […]

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To the Reader, Sincerely

DAVID LAZAR’s most recent book is Occasional Desire: Essays (University of Nebraska Press). His other books include The Body of Brooklyn and Truth in Nonfiction (both University of Iowa Press), Michael Powell: Interviews and Conversations with M.F.K. Fisher (both University Press of Mississippi), and Powder Town (Pecan Grove). He has been awarded an Ohio Individual Artist Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction. He is the founding editor of Hotel Amerika and professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.

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Of Vain Subtleties

There are a sort of little knacks and frivolous subtleties from which men sometimes expect to derive reputation and applause: as poets, who compose whole poems with every line beginning with the same letter; we see the shapes of eggs, globes, wings, and hatchets cut out by the ancient Greeks by the measure of their […]

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That Men Are Not to Judge of Our Happiness Till After Death

[Charron has borrowed with unusual liberality from this and the succeeding chapter. See Nodier, Questions, p. 206.] “Scilicet ultima semper Exspectanda dies homini est; dicique beatus Ante obitum nemo supremaque funera debet.” [“We should all look forward to our last day: no one can be called happy till he is dead and buried.”—Ovid, Met, iii. […]

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Of a Saying of Caesar

If we would sometimes bestow a little consideration upon ourselves, and employ the time we spend in prying into other men’s actions, and discovering things without us, in examining our own abilities we should soon perceive of how infirm and decaying material this fabric of ours is composed. Is it not a singular testimony of […]

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Of the Arms of the Parthians

‘Tis an ill custom and unmanly that the gentlemen of our time have got, not to put on arms but just upon the point of the most extreme necessity, and to lay them by again, so soon as ever there is any show of the danger being over; hence many disorders arise; for every one […]

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Of the Education of Children

TO MADAME DIANE DE FOIX, Comtesse de Gurson I never yet saw that father, but let his son be never so decrepit or deformed, would not, notwithstanding, own him: not, nevertheless, if he were not totally besotted, and blinded with his paternal affection, that he did not well enough discern his defects; but that with […]

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Of Constancy

NICOLE WALKER’s Quench Your Thirst with Salt won the Zone 3 Award for Creative Nonfiction and was released in June 2013. She is the author of a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street, 2010), and has edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction (Bloomsbury, 2013) and, with Rebecca Campbell, 7 Artists, 7 Rings—An Artist’s Game of Telephone for the Huffington Post. She is nonfiction editor at Diagram and associate professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

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Of Smells

It has been reported of some, as of Alexander the Great, that their sweat exhaled an odoriferous smell, occasioned by some rare and extraordinary constitution, of which Plutarch and others have been inquisitive into the cause. But the ordinary constitution of human bodies is quite otherwise, and their best and chiefest excellency is to be […]

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Of Managing the Will

Few things, in comparison of what commonly affect other men, move, or, to say better, possess me: for ’tis but reason they should concern a man, provided they do not possess him. I am very solicitous, both by study and argument, to enlarge this privilege of insensibility, which is in me naturally raised to a […]

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Of Liars

There is not a man living whom it would so little become to speak from memory as myself, for I have scarcely any at all, and do not think that the world has another so marvellously treacherous as mine. My other faculties are all sufficiently ordinary and mean; but in this I think myself very […]

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Of Judging of the Death of Another

When we judge of another’s assurance in death, which, without doubt, is the most remarkable action of human life, we are to take heed of one thing, which is that men very hardly believe themselves to have arrived to that period. Few men come to die in the opinion that it is their latest hour; […]

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The Ceremony of the Interview of Princes

There is no subject so frivolous that does not merit a place in this rhapsody. According to our common rule of civility, it would be a notable affront to an equal, and much more to a superior, to fail being at home when he has given you notice he will come to visit you. Nay, […]

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Of Profit and Honesty

No man is free from speaking foolish things; but the worst on’t is, when a man labours to play the fool: “Nae iste magno conatu magnas nugas dixerit.” [“Truly he, with a great effort will shortly say a mighty trifle.” —-Terence, Heaut., act iii., s. 4.] This does not concern me; mine slip from me […]

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Of War Horses, or Destriers

I here have become a grammarian, I who never learned any language but by rote, and who do not yet know adjective, conjunction, or ablative. I think I have read that the Romans had a sort of horses by them called ‘funales’ or ‘dextrarios’, which were either led horses, or horses laid on at several […]

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A Proceeding of Some Ambassadors

I observe in my travels this custom, ever to learn something from the information of those with whom I confer (which is the best school of all others), and to put my company upon those subjects they are the best able to speak of:— “Basti al nocchiero ragionar de’ venti, Al bifolco dei tori; et […]

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Of Ill Means Employed to a Good End

There is wonderful relation and correspondence in this universal government of the works of nature, which very well makes it appear that it is neither accidental nor carried on by divers masters. The diseases and conditions of our bodies are, in like manner, manifest in states and governments; kingdoms and republics are founded, flourish, and […]

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Of One Defect in Our Government

My late father, a man that had no other advantages than experience and his own natural parts, was nevertheless of a very clear judgment, formerly told me that he once had thoughts of endeavouring to introduce this practice; that there might be in every city a certain place assigned to which such as stood in […]

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Of Physiognomy

Almost all the opinions we have are taken on authority and trust; and ’tis not amiss; we could not choose worse than by ourselves in so weak an age. That image of Socrates’ discourses, which his friends have transmitted to us, we approve upon no other account than a reverence to public sanction: ’tis not […]

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Of the Roman Grandeur

I will only say a word or two of this infinite argument, to show the simplicity of those who compare the pitiful greatness of these times with that of Rome. In the seventh book of Cicero’s Familiar Epistles (and let the grammarians put out that surname of familiar if they please, for in truth it […]

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That Men Are Justly Punished for Being Obstinate in the Defense of a Fort that is Not in Reason to Be Defended

Valour has its bounds as well as other virtues, which, once transgressed, the next step is into the territories of vice; so that by having too large a proportion of this heroic virtue, unless a man be very perfect in its limits, which upon the confines are very hard to discern, he may very easily […]

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Of Friendship

VIVIAN GORNICK is an American critic, essayist, and memoirist. For many years she wrote for the Village Voice. Among her books are Fierce Attachments, Approaching Eye Level, The Situation and the Story, The End of the Novel of Love, and The Men in My Life (National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for criticism).

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Of Prayers

LIA PURPURA is the author of seven collections of essays, poems, and translations, most recently Rough Likeness (essays) and King Baby (poems). Her honors include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, National Endowment for the Arts and Fulbright Fellowships, three Pushcart Prizes, the Associated Writing Programs Award in Nonfiction, and the Beatrice Hawley and Ohio State University Press awards in poetry. Recent work appears in The Best American Essays and in Agni, Field, Georgia Review, Orion, New Republic, New Yorker, Paris Review, and elsewhere. She is writer in residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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That a Man Is Soberly to Judge of the Divine Ordinances

The true field and subject of imposture are things unknown, forasmuch as, in the first place, their very strangeness lends them credit, and moreover, by not being subjected to our ordinary reasons, they deprive us of the means to question and dispute them: For which reason, says Plato, —[In Critias.]—it is much more easy to […]

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Defence of Seneca and Plutarch

The familiarity I have with these two authors, and the assistance they have lent to my age and to my book, wholly compiled of what I have borrowed from them, oblige me to stand up for their honour. As to Seneca, amongst a million of little pamphlets that those of the so-called reformed religion disperse […]

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Of Smells

WAYNE KOESTENBAUM is a poet, critic, and artist. He has published nine books of nonfiction, on such subjects as hotels, Harpo Marx, humiliation, Jackie Onassis, opera, and Andy Warhol. His latest book of prose is My 1980s & Other Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013). His six books of poetry include Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background (Turtle Point, 2012) and Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films (Turtle Point, 2006). His first solo exhibition of paintings was at White Columns gallery in New York in 2012.

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Of Idleness

As we see some grounds that have long lain idle and untilled, when grown rich and fertile by rest, to abound with and spend their virtue in the product of innumerable sorts of weeds and wild herbs that are unprofitable, and that to make them perform their true office, we are to cultivate and prepare […]

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Of Sleep

JERALD WALKER is the author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, recipient of the 2011 pen New England/L. L. Winship Award for Nonfiction. His essays have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including four times in The Best American Essays, and his memoir about growing up in a doomsday cult will be published in 2015. Walker is an associate professor of creative writing at Emerson College.

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Of Moderation

As if we had an infectious touch, we, by our manner of handling, corrupt things that in themselves are laudable and good: we may grasp virtue so that it becomes vicious, if we embrace it too stringently and with too violent a desire. Those who say, there is never any excess in virtue, forasmuch as […]

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A Custom of the Isle of Cea

[Cos. Cea is the form of the name given by Pliny] If to philosophise be, as ’tis defined, to doubt, much more to write at random and play the fool, as I do, ought to be reputed doubting, for it is for novices and freshmen to inquire and to dispute, and for the chairman to […]

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Of Books and Huecos

JUDITH ORTIZ COFER is the author of If I Could Fly (2011), a novel; the children’s books Animal Jamboree: Latino Folktales (2012), The Poet Upstairs (2012), and ¡A Bailar! (2011); Call Me Maria (2006), a young adult novel; A Love Story Beginning in Spanish: Poems (2005); The Meaning of Consuelo (2003), a novel; Woman in Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer (2000), a collection of essays; An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (1995), a collection of short stories; The Line of the Sun (1989), a novel; Silent Dancing (1990), a collection of essays and poetry; two books of poetry, Terms of Survival (1987) and Reaching for the Mainland (1987); and The Latin Deli: Prose and Poetry (1993). The Cruel Country, a cultural memoir, is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press in 2015. In 2010 Judith Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She is the Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing, Emerita, at the University of Georgia. For further information see judithortizcofer.english.uga.edu.

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Against Idleness

KRISTEN RADTKE’s first book, a graphic memoir, is forthcoming from Pantheon Books. She is the marketing and publicity director for Sarabande Books and the film and video editor of TriQuarterly magazine. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.

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Of Sex, Embarrassment, and the Miseries of Old Age [after “On Some Verses of Virgil”]

ROBERT ATWAN is the series editor of The Best American Essays, which he founded in 1985. He has edited numerous anthologies and written on a wide variety of subjects that include the interpretation of dreams in ancient literature, photography, Shakespeare, literary nonfiction, and the cultural history of American advertising. His essays, criticism, humor, reviews, and poetry have appeared in many periodicals, including the Atlantic Monthly, Denver Quarterly, Image, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, and New York Times.

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Of Glory

There is the name and the thing: the name is a voice which denotes and signifies the thing; the name is no part of the thing, nor of the substance; ’tis a foreign piece joined to the thing, and outside it. God, who is all fulness in Himself and the height of all perfection, cannot […]

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That the Soul Expends Its Passions Upon False Objects Where the True Are Wanting

A gentleman of my country, marvellously tormented with the gout, being importuned by his physicians totally to abstain from all manner of salt meats, was wont pleasantly to reply, that in the extremity of his fits he must needs have something to quarrel with, and that railing at and cursing, one while the Bologna sausages, […]

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Upon Some Verses of Virgil

By how much profitable thoughts are more full and solid, by so much are they also more cumbersome and heavy: vice, death, poverty, diseases, are grave and grievous subjects. A man should have his soul instructed in the means to sustain and to contend with evils, and in the rules of living and believing well: […]

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That Our Mind Hinders Itself

JOSÉ ORDUÑA is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. He was born in Córdoba, Veracruz, and immigrated to Chicago with his mother at the age of one and a half. When he was in fourth grade, he and his parents traveled by bus from their home in Chicago to Ciudad Juárez in order to file for permanent residency under section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In December of 2010, while in graduate school, he applied for naturalization, and he was sworn in as a United States citizen the following year. He currently lives in Iowa City, where he is at work on his forthcoming book from Beacon Press, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement.

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Of the Affection of Fathers for Their Children

ROBIN HEMLEY directs the Writing Program at Yale-nus College in Singapore and is the author of eleven books of nonfiction and fiction and the winner of many awards including a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as three Pushcart Prizes in both fiction and nonfiction, an Independent Press Book of the Year Award, the American Library Association’s Editor’s Choice Award, and the Washington State Book Award. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and directed the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa from 2004 to 2013. His memoir NOLA: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness was reissued by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. He is the founder and organizer of NonfictioNow, a biennial conference that will convene next at Northern Arizona University in October of 2015.

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