Author: G. Douglas Atkins
University of Georgia Press – 276 pages
Book Review by: Paiso Jamakar

G. Douglas Atkins, a professor of English at the University of Kansas, shows us in this helpful book how to read, enjoy, and benefit from essays, a form of writing that has been around for over 400 years.

He points out that there are currently, many books prevailing on how to enjoyably and beneficially read works of drama, fiction and poetry; but not many on the essay.

Atkins presents and discusses 25 essays in this collection that he has used in his undergraduate and graduate classes. He compares some with others in terms of similarities and differences and unique and unusual features in them.

He writes that essays make specific demands on the essay reader (I did not know that) but they also offer unusual opportunities to learn things that are not discussed in other creative forms of writing. At the end of the book, he also offers suggestions on writing essays: this activity should not be separated from reading them, he asserts.

I believe doing one thing helps improve doing something similar to it. For example, crossword constructors will tell you that solving them enhances their creative skills. It is also true that the constructor learns a lot about what types of crossword puzzles the editor likes, and he can then submit puzzles with the types of themes the editor likes, so they get “sold” easier.

In the year 1951 the essay was approaching its most productive period but it was also a time when some people in the literary world had probably grown tired of this writing form. The author points out for example that Joseph Wood Krutch declared “No Essays Please” in 1951. So a decline in interest and essay productivity ensued. But since the late 1980s a resurgence of essay writing has occurred, Atkins observes.

He points out that some characteristics of the essay give it its inherent value and among them are its focus on the particular, the local and the rooted. The essay’s two main domains are the familiar and the personal matters it deals with. The essay is also rooted in meaning, and in timeless and universal truths, Atkins adds.

Numerous works of essayists and other types of writers are cited at the end of this book for readers to look at and read for their benefit.

All in all, Reading Essays: An Invitation is one that you ought to affirm and go to. You can benefit a lot from what G. Douglas Atkins presents in this book. It can sharpen your thinking and possibly even improve your writing and expressing your thoughts.