Did you know that today, February 28, is the birthdate of Michel de Montaigne, the man who invented the essay? OK, I know: stop the presses, that's totally exciting, right? But I'm such a geeky kinda gal that little tidbits like this one make me stop and mark the date.
So. Michel de Montaigne was this guy who lived in France in the 1500s. After his father died, he left his career as a lawyer to care for the family estate. He discovered he loved writing letters, which was great until everyone he wrote to passed away. Then he started writing to an imaginary reader, and voila! The essay was invented.
I know the tendency is to think of an essay as one of those boring things you had to write in English class about Francis Bacon or Albert Einstein or whomever your teacher assigned you to research. But really: that is research---restating facts. An essay is something entirely different---it is a place for discussing your thoughts on just about any subject. Aldus Huxley said that the essay is "a literary device for saying almost everything about anything." It can be personal, or tell a story, or argue a certain position; you can write one about a poem or a novel or another essay, or how you feel about, say, toenails or archeology or daffodils. In essence, it is a space for writing down and discussing your ideas and opinions. (If you want to read some good essays, try The Best American Essays 2007---or any year, really---which I found at Costco a few weeks ago, much to my surprise!)
The essay is my favorite thing to write. It's what I shlep around to literary magazines, my bread-and-butter rejection-letter collection agent. I tend to think about topics in an essay structure. But here's the deal: If you are a blogger, and your blog is more than a collection of your daily itinerary---if it's a place where you put your ideas and opinions into a logical structure---then you're an essayist, too.
The blogosphere owes a hearty thank you to Michel de Montaigne, I think. Maybe even a cupcake or two, but certainly a few well-written blog entries. So, share with me: are there blogs you enjoy reading because the blogger writes well? I want to know about more of them!