The Ten Greatest Essays, Ever

Jenny Boully

W.H. Auden, “Journal of an Airman”

(from The Orators: An English Study, 1932)

Lawrence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

(first published 1759)

Charles Simic, “The Necessity of Poetry”

(from The Unemployed Fortune-Teller, 1995)

Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

(from Hill and Wang, 1979)

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

(from Hill and Wang, 1981)

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

(from G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1966)

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

(the Penguin translation, 1935)

Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

(from Focus Features, 2004)

Robert Kelly, “Edmund Wilson on Alfred de Musset: the Dream”

(from Conjunctions: 30, Spring 1998)

and passages deleted by the author in The Trial, by Franz Kafka

(from Schocken Books, 1914)

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About Jenny Boully

Jenny Boully is the author of three book-length essays, The Book of Beginnings and Endings, [one love affair]*, and the highly popular The Body: An Essay, which has subsequently been excerpted and anthologized in The Great American Prose Poem, The Next American Essay, and The Best American Poetry, selected and edited by Robert Creeley. Her work regularly appears in the journals Boston Review, Maissonneuve, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, How2, Nerve, and Tarpaulin Sky. She was born in Thailand, raised in San Antonio, and now lives in Chicago, where she is Assistant Professor of Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College.

“These are in no particular order, and I think my choices were based more on how these writings changed my life or opened up possibilities for me in terms of thinking about writing. I know the Sterne selection is a “novel”; however, the book feels more essayistic to me than novelistic. The same is true of my film selection: to me “Eternal Sunshine” feels more essayistic than cinematic. Ditto with Auden’s poem. I think too that some of the best essays are gathered from refuse: Kafka’s deleted passages, Simic’s gathered fragments. I restrained myself by including only two selections by Barthes.”