How to Be a Man

20Oct09

I first noticed Thomas Beller when his excellent essay “Portrait of the Bagel as a Young Man” was published in a book calledhowtobeaman The Art of the Essay. It’s an engrossing account of being adopted into one of those jobs (in this case, a bagel shop in New York) that somehow goes hand-in-hand with a stage of your life. He appears to have revised the ending (or at least the last line) a few times, and I actually don’t recommend reading the version posted online. Instead, get his collection of essays. Of the twenty essays here, only a few aren’t particularly memorable, and they follow a nice progression from youthful exploits and obsessions (“Manhattan Ate My Car”) to marriage (“The Floating Armoire”).

At the same time, I happen to have discovered another New Yorker: Sloane  Crosley is the author of the essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake. She chooses a different style in that she wants to be funny (and often succeeds) but there’s also a lot of sincerity here in a sharply written collection that demonstrates her eye for an important moment or a good detail. So far, “The Ursula Cookie,” is my favourite — it’s also about a job experience, including an attempt to appease a hostile boss by baking her a cookie in the shape of her head: “Ursula held the cookie by the corner of its Zip-loc bag. In her tight pinch it looked like a piece of crime scene evidence.”

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