Mark Twain first rose to fame as the author of an essay about a frog-jumping contest in California. Originally titled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” the essay went viral in America’s biggest newspapers, eventually inspiring the New York Tribune to write of Twain that “no reputation was ever so rapidly won.” Yet the humor which made the essay so popular is often lost on modern audiences, in no small part because, as Ben Turnoff writes in Lapham’s Quarterly, frontier humor isn’t funny if there’s no Wild West.
For The New Yorker Alex Ross describes the role Nebraska's prairies played in Willa Cather's writing, his encounters with Cather people, and how he became one himself. "From this roughshod Europe of the mind, Cather also emerged with a complex understanding of American identity. Her symphonic landscapes are inflected with myriad accents, cultures, personal narratives—all stored away in a prodigious memory. "
Could James Baldwin be America’s greatest essayist? Ta-Nehisi Coates believes so -- at The Atlantic, he argues that The Fire Next Time shows Baldwin committing “amazing acts of intellectual and emotional courage.” (Related: Buzz Poole paid tribute to Baldwin back in 2008.)
It’s been seventeen years since Judy Blume published a book for adult readers. Her latest, In the Unlikely Event, brings that streak to an end. In the Times, Caroline Leavitt reviews her new book, which depicts a small town in the fifties reeling in the wake of three consecutive plane crashes. FYI, our own Lydia Kiesling wrote an essay on Blume’s book Forever.