Must-Read Personal Essay Collections Recommended by an Essayist

“A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of the artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one’s art. One must accept it. For this reason, I speak in a poem of the ancient food of heroes: humiliation, unhappiness, discord.”

                                                                ― Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Non-Fictions

I’ve always had a soft spot for essay collections in my heart as a lover of all things literary. Mainly because they are so versatile when it comes to portraying ideas, memoirs, thoughts or even fleeting memories of a sweet childhood. Essays provide food for thought, allowing for a diversity of perspectives and passions that can often inspire in their readers something previously undiscovered. Maybe it can be a phrase that sticks to the mind, a new perspective of the world, or a renewed drive for greater change within.

As for the topics that can be covered by the essay collection, the possibilities are endless. No matter what your interest is, or where your niche lies, a good essay collection has just as much appeal as a novel. It’s also a very personal medium that allows the readers to personally know the writer. Reading these essay collections allows us to gain insight into the inner workings of great minds, become their companions in conversation, and put a piece of their minds on our shelves. Much like the Borges quote above.

I have included some must-read personal essay collections along with my own in this article to help you open your mind to these literary gems.

Five Great Must-Read Personal Essay Collections To Read In 2022

Here are some of my personal essay collection picks that you may find interesting:

1. A Carpet Of Violets and Clover by Jenny Zimmer

As I previously mentioned, I found an essay collection to be an appropriate medium to condense my most mundane experiences, troubles, moments of appreciation and wonder, and snippets from my thoughts and daydreams. I wanted my readers to feel as if we are having conversations together rather than just them surging through the pages of my book. If you are a literary amateur in essay collections, my book can be a great pick to help you ease into the style of short stories and personal essay collections.

2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

When it comes to describing personal experiences in a light-hearted tone, Wallace’s personal essay collection takes the cake. This collection of seven pieces – covering topics ranging from television to tennis matches, the colorful scenery of the Illinois State Fair to the films of David Lynch, this collection has been praised enthusiastically by the readers. You will feel as if you’re seeing these memories and arguments through Wallace’s eyes because of his knack for detailed writing.

3. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

Although Zadie Smith is best known for her fiction masterpieces, the essays in her personal collection Changing My Mind are every bit as affecting, endearing, and poetic as any of her books. Smith lays bare her thoughts and experiences about everything, from literature and art, politics and pop culture, family and feminism, and everything in between. Reading this collection is like seeing the world through her own eyes, which is as immersive as the real thing. For readers who are true bookworms or perhaps writers themselves, Changing My Mind can be a great introduction to essays.

4. Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti

In his collection of 17 personal essays, author Michael Materniti gets right to the heart of the matter, may it be his tragic experiences or some beautiful ponderings. With his elegant writing style and stirring narration, Paterniti is able to create something beautiful out of sad tragedy, whether he is writing about a funny childhood accident, a devasting suicide attempt, or a horrifying plane disaster. This essay collection will make you question if you ever thought of essay collections as everything dull; Love and Other Ways of Dying is everything but that.

5. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker

It can be hard to capture someone’s life (essentially a biography) into an essay collection. There are a lot of unsuccessful attempts at this approach out there. But In Search Of Our Mothers excels in this approach perfectly. Walker’s essays on feminism, which she quotes as “womanism” and the Civil Rights Movement that spanned her career in non-fiction, from her first published non-fiction piece to more personal essays about her background, are detailed bits of masterpieces which combine the style of an autobiography and an essay collection perfectly.

Conclusion: More Than Just Thoughts on Paper

An essay collection is so much more than just a bunch of childhood stories put together. When written right, they will make you feel just as much immersion and emotion as a good novel. If you ever wanted to walk beside your favorite author, dive into their thoughts, and experience their memories, from the brightest and happiest ones to the sorrowful, why not give reading essay collections a try? I tried to do the same with my poem and essay collection, which you can read by heading over to Amazon.