Essays and Essayists

James Vanoosting, in the introduction And the Flesh Became Word, says something that struck my inner chords: “Given half a chance, I’ll write an essay before a book, after a book, between books, and (my favorite) instead of a book.” There’s a man after my own heart. In fact, a man who seems to have lived in my own house.

Which, of course, he has. JVO and I lived in the same home, he before I — and that shows our relative ages — but which, once you hit 50, no longer matters. How old someone is over coffee matters less than the pleasure of the conversation, and I could spend a many with him.
JVO has had numerous essays published and I have not. I’ve written a few, but no one has published them. Here’s my admission: I love essays, familiar essays like those of Joseph Epstein and William Hazlitt and others, and I’d like to write one someday — and if I could choose, I’d want it published in something like The New Yorker or The American Scholar (under a former editor). But, alas, when JVO left that home on Burchard in Freeport, IL, he went on to novel writing and essay writing. We are both professors, but I write books about the Bible and for the Church. Not that I’m complaining.
But, how odd is that? Two kids who barely knew one another who turn out to be writers and from a small midwestern town known mostly by the unusual nickname it gives its sports teams: the Pretzels.
The first draft of Jesus Creed had some essayist flourishes. My steady, insightful editor, good ol’ Lil Copan, said something like this: “Whaddaythinkyou’redoing, Scot, writing an essay?” To which I said, “I like essays.” To which she said, “This isn’t an essay. Keep to the task.” Which I did. Thanks to Lil.
Now, like a familiar essay, I’ve wandered a bit. Back to JVO’s book. The first six chapters are personal narratives, and I loved them. He talks about Mikey Pohill, our next-door neighbor and about First Baptist Church. He speaks about the most wonderful librarian in the world, Mrs. Popp, and then he tells some stories about almost dying, about almost committing suicide, about depression and about divorce. Real stuff here. I hope some of you take up the chance to read him. The second section, called Biblical Narratives, has an insightful piece on “vocation.”

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  • Scot,
    I look forward to reading JVO’s book.

  • “Given half a chance, I’ll write an essay before a book, after a book, between books, and (my favorite) instead of a book.”
    I’ve got to think that a lot of bloggers resonate with statements like this. At its best, blogging is just an essay installment plan.