Essays without the due date

“A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.” – Virginia Woolf

Welcome to our June blog post!

The world has slowly started to reopen just in time for summer and that includes us. We are so happy to have so many lovely faces back in the bookshop and the cafe, which has a scrummy new and improved menu. Many cakes have been eaten. But enough about me, let’s dive into the good book stuff!

Publisher of the Month

Our Publisher Spotlight for June is on Parthian Books – based in Cardigan, this delightfully varied imprint has published some of our very favourite titles in the last few years.

The haunting Revenant, the delightfully weird Bad IdeasChemicals, the scheming and action of The Vagabond King and the downright unusual The Blue Tent all came to us from Parthian, along with Susie Wild’s debut The Art of Contraception.

In non-fiction, Parthian brought us Labour Country, Wales: England’s Colony? and The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.

They’ve also made a splash in The Welsh Agenda with LGBT narratives – Between Worlds and The Journey Is Home – and a challenge to the dry GCSE curriculum that’s put Welsh titles like Cardiff Cut, Fresh Apples and The Long Dry front and centre.

Essay Collections

For my first contribution to the blog (it’s Megan here), I wanted to start with a genre that I love but that I feel is often forgotten about, which is essay collections. Before you recoil in horror, stay with me because I’m not talking about the essays they made you read and regurgitate in school. No, essay collections can be educational, funny, heartfelt or thought-provoking. They are about people and the world around us. I enjoy them for a couple of reasons:

  1. They are a great entry way into non-fiction if you generally read more fiction titles, because essays can be consumed in more bitesize chunks. They also might appeal if you like longform journalism.
  2. Within just the one book they can cover a range of topics and be written by a range of authors, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
  3. There are collections for all different moods, whether you want to be educated or made to laugh, and you can just dip in and out.

Here are some of my favourite essay collections to get you started!

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Intimations was written during the pandemic, and whilst it’s a short but sweet essay collection (it’s under 100 pages), it sure packs a punch. Rather than offer solutions, the author explores the human experience during Covid-19 including isolation, privileges, the perceived need to be productive as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s written with Smith’s usual intelligence, wit and curiosity and unwavering focus on the connection between humans.

Just So You Know: Essays of Experience by multiple authors (Edited by Hanan Issa, Durre Shahwar and Özgür Uyanık)

Just So You Know is a diverse and insightful collection of essays that gives space to underrepresented perspectives. The project invited authors to contribute who are either “born in, living in, or have a connection to Wales”. This open invitation served to widen the voices included and the essays challenge the idea of what being Welsh means. The essays cover a wide range of topics, with authors exploring race, cultural heritage, language politics, neurodivergence, sexual identity and immigration.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Ok, disclaimer first here – I love Nora Ephron and all of her writing (and films) so I couldn’t not include her in my list! I Feel Bad About My Neck is a collection of Ephron’s essay writing from over the years on life and how to be a woman. Her observations and advice are acerbic, razor sharp and make me laugh out loud. She is the friend I wish I had who could tell me a few home truths when I need it!

How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? by Pandora Sykes

Recently out in the paperback version, I read How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? as soon as it came out last year. This essay collection explores the questions and anxieties that pervade modern life – with so many choice, how do we know we’re making the right one? The essays cover topics such as the rise of the wellness industry, cancel culture, and fast fashion in an insightful and meticulously researched manner. It isn’t a self help book, but it will definitely get you thinking.

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