So cold, it hurt to breathe. The squeak and crunch of snow beneath my boots, a flicker of lights from across the frozen lake. I walked quickly, swinging my arms, my whole frame vibrating, struck like a crystal goblet and still ringing. The cold, I told myself. It’s only the cold that makes me shiver.

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LA Review of Books

Even those of us who regularly ask, with Montaigne, “Que sais-je?” (“What do I know?”), may succumb to the belief that we know the author of a personal essay. After all, isn’t that why it’s called personal? The easy, apparently transparent relationship between author and reader forms a large part of the essay’s appeal. With her intimate, confiding tone, the essayist seems to take us by the hand, draw us over the threshold of literature’s imposing mansion, and escort us to a comfortable sitting room with a view of an English garden. There, begging leave for a mere half hour of our time, she gradually but decidedly reveals herself in all her human peculiarity. She strips the “authority” from “author” and shows us the human side of that sometimes-distant figure.

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The Malahat Review

The conclusion of Stan Dragland’s The Bricoleur & His Sentences is a chapter called “How to Use This Book.” If you’re the sort of reader who flattens the frontispiece, starts at sentence one, and proceeds systematically to sentence number ten thousand and seventy three (The End.), then the placement of this guideline may leave you perplexed or even annoyed.

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Numéro Cinq

As a child, I hated the rake. I hated the way its tines caught the long grass. I hated the blisters it raised on my hands. I hated bagging. The leaves clumped in slimy piles. The piles hid fallen apples, pocked with wormholes, soft with rot. Why did I have to rake, while my friends’ voices rang in some happy outdoor game, or while my book lay open near the fireplace? Was it my idea to plant so many trees? The rake was taller than I was. We made ungainly dance partners. Reluctant to lead, I wrenched the thing around; stiff and obtuse, it stuttered behind or scraped against my shoes. If I complained enough, my mother might relieve me of my duties. I’d slink away, guilty in the knowledge that I’d bought my sloth at the expense of her sore back.

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49th Shelf

Pity the essay—so undervalued that nobody recognizes it. We pass it by without a nod, or imagine we see it in a dozen other faces. “Ah, there you are! I’ve been looking for you! We must catch up,” we say, pumping a hand or slapping a rounded shoulder, all the while checking our watch in anticipation of our next appointment. Nobody wants to read the essay. Nobody wants to buy it. It’s so unpopular that in the 2012 Canada Reads—the first nonfiction edition ever—books of essays are explicitly ruled out.

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Utne Reader

I learned to read in that library. Without intention, without struggle. Simply by sitting with a book. One moment I was staring at pictures of ordinary garden vegetables with some letters beneath them; the next moment the letters became words. Carrot glowed with an intensity exactly suited to its vibrant orange. Peas slipped off the page as easily as off a plate. Years later, when I read Ferdinand de Saussure on the lack of any necessary or intrinsic relationship between signifier and signified, I couldn’t be fully persuaded. I knew that carrot was not carrot in Russian, in Chinese, or in many other languages; I knew it was possible to substitute another set of sounds to indicate the same sturdy root. But there was nothing arbitrary in that hard c like the click of a spade against stony soil; there was nothing arbitrary in that double r. You had to yank the word out of yourself.

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