Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Taint of the Schoolroom

Philip Lopate has called the personal essay the vision of middle age... I'd extend that statement by saying that any essay — personal, critical, expository — is more likely to be written by someone with a few gray hairs than by a twenty-five-year-old. (He's too busy finishing his first novel.) Activity and reflection tend to be sequential rather than simultaneous. And it takes at least a dozen years before the taint of the schoolroom—the "essay question," the college application "essay," the "essay on the principle exports of Bulgaria, due Thursday at 10:00," all of which have as much in common with an essay by Montaigne as a vitamin pill does with a chocolate truffle—wears off completely.

Ann Fadiman, in the introduction to Best American Essays 2003

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