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The personal essay has always been a stepchild of serious literature, seemingly formless, hard to classify.Lacking the tight construction of a short story or the narrative arc of a novel or memoir, such essays have given readers pleasure without winning cultural respect.
Again and again Lopate writes less about a stable subject than about his own constantly evolving views of it.
” With a wealth of examples of movies that felt different for him when he was younger, he serves up an oblique sliver of autobiography, taking the measure of his middle-aging self through the movies that formed him.
The personal essays that open the book are like snapshots, a memoir by glimpses, each from a different angle: his parents’ ill-fated camera shop in their mostly black and Hispanic — and poor — Brooklyn neighborhood; his loving but competitive relationship with his older brother, Leonard, the well-known radio host; an embarrassing episode as a youthful Hebrew tutor, sliding down “the slippery slope of disbelief,” behaving badly, losing his small store of Jewish faith; and best of all “The Lake of Suffering,” a wrenching account of a grave illness that kept his baby daughter in the hospital for many months after her birth.
The essays also take many forms—from humor to meditations to diaries to letters to newspaper columns to mere lists.
Acknowledging the fact that many writers have written personal essays, Lopate states that he tended to choose those who were specifically dedicated to the form.