It’s hard to be a person in the world today — or, really, any day, but today’s what we’ve got. Humans are striving creatures, and also empathetic ones, so most of us are always looking for an opportunity to improve ourselves, even in tiny, literary ways. We’ve already established that novels can make you a better person, but of course, novels also take you down a long winding road to get there. If you’re looking for a more direct shot to the heart, try an essay. After the jump, you’ll find 50 essays more or less guaranteed to make you a better person — or at least a better-read one — some recommended by notables of the literary and literary nonfiction world, some recommended by yours truly, incessant consumer of the written word. Don’t see the essay that changed your life? Please do add it to the list.
”Documents,” Charles D’Ambrosio
(Recommended by Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams)
“You could call Charles D’Ambrosio’s essay “Documents” a piece of memoir, an act of urgent fraternal curiosity, a parade of ghosts — and it’s all of these, but formally it’s really a series of close-readings connected by deep grooves of loss. D’Ambrosio examines texts written by his father and his troubled brothers — including letters, a suicide note, and a fanciful poem — in order to meditate on the intimacies and ruptures that have structured his family. As is the nature of his brilliance, D’Ambrosio resists conclusions. He honors the complexity embedded in his grief—not always a source of solace, but ultimately a powerful kind of tribute.”