Last night I read Sam Pickering's essay, George, in The Best American Essays 2006. This morning, I skimmed an interview with Anne Fadiman that I heard about through Chasing Ray. In the interview, Fadiman discusses "familiar essays."
My first thought was, Dear God, I just can't keep up. "Familiar essays?" Fadiman describes them as being a subset of the personal essay. "...it is about the author, so it is a subset of the personal essay, but it is also about a subject." Hmmm. I thought the personal essay was about something related to the author that had universal significance. Wouldn't that "something related to the author" be "a subject?" Do we really need two terms?
Then I started thinking about Pickering's essay, George. Wouldn't that be called a familiar essay?
The thing is, though, Pickering was the teacher for the only graduate course I've ever attended, and I don't recall him using the term "familiar essay." Unless, of course, he used it during the first two or three class sessions when I had trouble understanding him because he speaks with a heavy southern accent.
So, anyway, I started hunting for George on-line because it was originally published in a journal and journals sometimes post content on-line. I didn't find it, but I did find Sam Pickering's curriculum vitae, and on it he divides his writings under various categories. Lo and behold, one of them is "Familiar Essays." And toward the end of the nearly seven pages of titles, you'll find George.
How bizarre is that? I've never heard of the term "familiar essay" until this morning, at which point I realize I'd just read one last night.
I'm thinking of writing a familiar essay about having my ceilings painted.
By the way, BDT is very fond of Pickering's book, Letters to a Teacher.