Essay collections are perfect for filling bits of time when you need something to read but don’t want to settle into anything long. I am almost always in the middle of a collection, and it doesn’t matter in the least if I take a long time to finish it. They are perfect for dipping into, for trying out, for reading at whim.
2017 is a great year for essays. The 20 collections featured below give you a taste of the kind of material available: there are books about what it’s like to live in Trump’s America, about being a woman today, about living in the age of Black Lives Matter. You will also find collections about art and literature and about the ups and downs of everyday life. Some collections contain all of the above. The richness and variety of essays available today is overwhelming, in the best possible way. So check out this list of 20 of the year’s best collections and see if something catches your interest.
Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life by Chelsea Martin
These essays chart Chelsea Martin’s life from her girlhood into her early adult years. They are personal, revealing, funny, and wince-inducing all at once. Martin grew up poor in a poor California town, and here she lays it all out: her struggles with family, love, sex, money, illness, and more. This is a quick read, and one that will stay with you.
Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding
Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed, Samantha Irby, Katha Pollitt, and Nicole Chung are among the 23 women writers in this collection about living in Trump’s America. This is an essential book for those who want to think about how our country ended up where it is and how we move forward.
Would Everybody Please Stop: Reflections on Life and other bad ideas by Jenny Allen
Here you will find 35 short pieces by a humor writer and performer who can bring out the comedy of everyday life. Allen mixes comedic pieces with more serious essays on illness, motherhood, and single life after decades of being in a relationship. This is a book for when you want to laugh and then sigh with rueful recognition.
Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment Edited by Angela J. Davis
Authors included in this anthology are Bryan Stevenson, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jeremy Travis, and more. It’s a look at issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the ways the criminal justice system affects black boys and men. It’s one of a large group of books out this year that help explain the impact of racism on black Americans and on the culture at large.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Irby’s previous essay collection Meaty was hilarious. Here is her follow-up, with more of what she is so good at: comic personal essays on the trials and tribulations of contemporary life. The essays will move you and entertain you both.
The Hidden Machinery: essays on Writing by Margo Livesey
This collection is for writers and those who like to read about books and writing. It’s part a study of literature, part writing class, and part memoir. You can read Livesey’s thoughts on Flaubert and Austen and learn her thoughts on how to create characters and how to write dialogue. Livesey is a beloved writing teacher sharing the wisdom gained by years of teaching.
The Wrong Way to Save Your life: Essays by Megan Stielstra
Here you will find personal essays that cover a range of topics: motherhood, education, art, academia, the internet, and more. It’s personal, smart, moving, and funny, the kind of book that will make you think and feel both, and where the writer feels like she’s keeping you company while you read.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman By Anne Helen Peterson
In a similar vein as Sady Doyle’s great 2016 book Trainwreck, this collection looks at women in the public eye. Analyzing figures such as Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, Peterson discusses why we love to hate these powerful, controversial women and what our obsession with celebrity tells us about who we are.
Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys Into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy
Camille Dungy covers a broad range of topics: traveling as a mother, working in the literary world as a woman of color, hiking, visiting slave-trading ports in Ghana, watching her daughter learn language. In every essay, Dungy is incisive and revealing, both of her own experience and of the state of the world as she sees it.
Browse: The World in BookshopsEdited by Henry Hitchings
This one is for bookshop lovers and those who love to read about books (as I do!). Here you will find 15 essays on the significance, function, pleasures, and possibilities of bookstores from around the world. Contributors include Alaa Al Aswany, Michael Dirda, Yiyun Li, Elif Shafak, Ali Smith, and more.
We Were Eight Years in POwer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates is always an exciting event, and here he is writing about the Obama years. This collection contains work that appeared in magazines to great acclaim and much discussion such as “Fear of a Black President,” and “The Case for Reparations.” It contains eight new essays as well, each of which covers a year of the Obama administration.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
These are essays about music, but also about culture, race, and life in America today. Willis-Abdurraqib writes about attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, what it was like growing up in America in the 1990s, the first time he was thrown on the ground by police officers, and much more.
The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison
These essays began as lectures. They cover history, politics, and literature, including an examination of authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Faulkner, and Flannery O’Connor. Any book by Toni Morrison is an essential one, and here she delivers the incisive observations about race and American culture we have come to expect from her.
Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard
Like many on this list, Sarah Gerard’s collection has a lot to tell us about America. She focuses on Florida and from there moves into the personal, and into politics, the economy, and the environment. The essays are a mix of reporting, memoir, and cultural critique.
Somebody with a little hammer: Essays by Mary Gaitskill
Mary Gaitskill is known for her novels Veronica, Two Girls Fat and Thin, and others, and now we have her first essay collection. These pieces were written over the course of a couple decades and cover a range of topics including books and authors; musicians, artists, and celebrities; and cultural and political movements and debates.
Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults by Laurie Penny
Here’s a collection for anyone who wants to read a series of smart, provocative essays on feminism today, including subjects such as the 2016 election, online harassment, being a woman writer, transgender rights, and more. Laurie Penny makes a fiercely intelligent companion in our quest to understand feminism and contemporary culture.
Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean Edited by Jennifer Browdy
This collection contains the work of 16 writers including Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Gloria Anzaldua, and more. It contains both poetry and essays on the topic of resistance: how women can collaborate across race and class boundaries to fight patriarchy and white supremacy.
Too Much and Not the MOod by Durga Chew-Bose
Full of examples of what gets called the “lyric essay,” this book is varied in subject matter and beautifully written. It opens with a long essay called “Heart Museum” that takes us into Chew-Bose’s life and around the world, and from there moves to shorter essays on family, identity, race, and culture.
Everwhere Home: A Life in Essays by Fenton Johnson
Fenton Johnson’s subjects include sexuality, religion, art, basketball, and more. The essays are also about travel: he wanders from Kentucky to San Francisco to Paris to Calcutta. It’s a collection of pieces that appeared in places like Harper’s as well as new work.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will matter by Scaachi Koul
If you’re in the mood for some humorous essays, this is the book for you: a debut collection that touches on race and culture, gender roles, parents, the internet, and more. She will make you laugh as she tells personal stories and analyzes what it’s like to grow up shaped by two cultures, Western (Canadian) and Indian.
News, new releases, and reading recommendations for nonfiction readers!
I’m always on the look-out for new and interesting essay collections, and the first half of this year has a bunch of good ones on offer. Okay, the first two are from the end of last year, so I cheated a little bit, but I didn’t want you to miss them. I think there’s something on this list for many different types of readers, whether you’re a regular essay-reader or not. Some of these essay collections will appeal to lovers of books about books. Some will appeal to those who want to read about culture, science, or religion. Still others will appeal to those who want to read something personal, something funny, something philosophical, or something beautifully written. Some essay collections contain all these things. So check them out! If a book is not yet published, I included the publication date and publisher so you can easily add it to your wishlist.
The Crunk Feminist Collection, edited by Brittney C. Cooper, Susanna M. Morris, and Robin M. Boylorn: The Crunk Feminist Collective began as a blog devoted to race, gender, pop culture, and current events, run by three academics wanting to have real, deep conversations about race and culture. Now they have gathered their work into an engaging, vital collection that will appeal to readers of all kinds.
Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women, edited by Marcia Aldrich: This volume collects essays by Eula Biss, Meghan Daum, Margo Jefferson, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, and many more. It’s a celebration of women writers and the contributions they have made to the essay form.
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin: Every wondered how to make money as a writer, or whether that’s even possible? This collection brings together writers such as Cheryl Strayed, Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, and many more, to discuss the realities of money, writing, and life.
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, edited by Kelly Jensen: Full disclosure: Kelly Jensen is a Book Riot editor. Here We Are contains many genres, including essays, poems, and comics, about what it means to be a feminist today. Writers include Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, politician Wendy Davis, and many more.
300 Arguments, by Sarah Manguso: Want something short that will make you think deeply? This book is a collection of aphorisms and offers the pleasure of reading each “argument” separately, while pondering how they work together to create a whole.
How We Speak to One Another, edited by Ander Monson and CraigReinbold: This collection is perfect for those who like books about books: it brings together over 40 pieces in which writers respond to the essays that have most moved, changed, and influenced them.
Animals Strike Curious Poses, by Elena Passarello: Here you will find 16 essays about animals, each one covering an animal named and made famous by humans. The pieces move from animals into history, myth, and science.
All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, by Alana Massey: This book has a fabulous subtitle. It’s a collection of essays about personal experience and pop culture, looking at figures such as Britney Spears, Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, and Courtney Love.
Practice Resurrection: And Other Essays, by Erik Reece: This book contains essays on religion, family, and the natural world and helps readers think about human spirituality and the environment. This is a book especially for readers of Wendell Berry.
An Arrangement of Skin: Essays, by Anna Journey: The subjects in this collection are varied, but they focus on identity, the “many ‘skins’ we inhabit in a life,” as the publisher puts it. This is a book for lovers of the lyric essay and those interested in experiments in the essay as a form.
More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers, by Jonathan Lethem: Here you’ll find over a decade of Lethem’s essays on books and writing, including new material and previously published works. This is perfect for fans of Lethem’s novels and for those who can’t get enough of writing about writing.
Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes, by Anne Elizabeth Moore (Curbside Splendor, March 27th): This book’s subtitle should draw you into this collection of essays on women’s bodies in our misogynistic, capitalistic world. These essays contain personal and journalistic writing and a healthy dose of humor.
Somebody With a Little Hammer: Essays, by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon, April 4th): These pieces were written over the course of a couple decades and cover a range of topics including books and authors; musicians, artists, and celebrities; and cultural and political movements and debates.
The History of the Future: American Essays, by Edward McPherson (Coffee House Press, April 10th): As the subtitle promises, here are essays about America: its places, its history, and its myths. Topics include fracking, Dallas and Dallas, the St. Louis World’s Fair, and more.
Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays, by Durga Chew-Bose (FSG Originals, April 11th): Chew-Bose’s writing is lovely; it will make you slow down to treasure every word. Her essays are personal in focus, while at the same reaching toward the philosophical and the poetic.
Sunshine State: Essays, by Sarah Gerard (Harper Perennial, April 11th): Here is another essay collection that has a lot to tell us about America. Gerard focuses on Florida and from there moves into the personal, and into politics, the economy, and the environment.
American Originality: Essays on Poetry, by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 18th): If you follow contemporary American poetry, you may have come across Louise Glück’s work. Here she is writing essays on poetry, with a new look at what’s going on in the poetry world today.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays, by Scaachi Koul (Picador, May 2nd): If you’re in the mood for some humorous essays, you might check out this book, a debut collection that touches on race and culture, gender roles, parents, the internet, and more.
Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, edited by Jim Al-Khalili (Picador, May 9th): Here’s a collection for all you lovers of science. This book brings together scientists from around the world to discuss the latest research and theories on the search for intelligent life in the universe.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays, by Samantha Irby (Vintage, May 30th): Irby’s previous essay collection Meaty was hilarious. Here is her follow-up, with more of what she is so good at: comic personal essays on the trials and tribulations of contemporary life.
Want even more essay collections? We’ve got 100 of them.
News, new releases, and reading recommendations for nonfiction readers!