Deal Me In Essayist Challenge

Almost a year ago, I posted about my troubles reading the excellent essay collection The Art of the Personal Essay edited by Philip Lopate. Many of the essays were enjoyable, but I was having trouble fitting them into my reading life. The methods I was using just weren’t working, and I ended up breezing through a bunch of essays without really taking them in.

After watching James‘s regular short story posts, part of the Deal Me In Challenge, last year, I realized that this challenge might offer the mix of methodicalness and variety that would help me finish (or at least read more of) this collection. The way the challenge works is that you get a deck of cards and assign a short work to each card. (The challenge is focused on short stories, but challenge host Jay welcomes variations.) Each week, you draw a card and read the piece assigned to that card.

Lopate’s collection includes 51 essayists. I gave Montaigne two entries to give myself a full deck. I pondered doing this by the essay and only finishing part of the book, but some of the essays are just a page or two, and it seems to me that I might get a greater appreciation of some of these essayists by reading their multiple selections together.

As with all challenges, this is just for fun. I don’t expect I’ll post every week, but I hope to at least share a few sentences on each essay, maybe in a monthly post. I may not even get through the whole deck this year, but that will just leave me some options for creating a new deck next year. (I love the idea of assigning a different suit to different types of short works: short fiction, essays, poems, etc.) We’ll just see how it goes.

Here is my list:


1 Seneca: “On Noise,” “Asthma,” “Scipio’s Villa,” and “Slaves”
2 Plutarch: “Consolation to His Wife”
3 Sei Shonagan: “Hateful Things”
4 Kenko: “Essays in Idleness”
5 Ou-Yang Hsiu: “Pleasure Boat Studio”
6 Michel de Montaigne: “Of Books” and “Of a Monstrous Child”
7 Michel de Montaigne: “On Some Verses of Virgil”
8 Abraham Crowley: “Of Greatness”
9 Joseph Addison: “Nicolini and the Lions”
10 Richard Steele: “A Hour or Two Sacred to Sorrow,” “Twenty Four Hours in London,” and “Love Letters”
J Samuel Johnson: “The Boarding House” and “The Solitude of the Country”
Q Maria Edgeworth: “An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-Justification”
K Charles Lamb: “New Year’s Eve,” “A Chapter on Ears,” “Dream Children: A Reverie,” and “The Superannuated Man”


1 William Hazlitt: “On Going on a Journey,” “On the Pleasure of Hating,” and “The Fight”
2 Robert Louis Stevenson: “The Lantern-Bearers,” “An Apology for Idlers,” and “On Marriage”
3 Max Beerbohm: “Going Out for a Walk,” “Laughter”
4 G.K. Chesterton: “A Piece of Chalk” and “On Running After One’s Hat”
5 Virginia Woolf: “Street Haunting” and “The Death of the Moth”
6 George Orwell: “Such, Such Were the Joys”
7 Ivan Turgenev: “The Execution of Tropman”
8 Lu Hsun: “This Too Is Life” and “Death”
9 Junichiro Tanizaki: “In Praise of Shadows”
10 Water Benjamin: “Unpacking My Library” and “Hashish in Marseilles”
J Jorge Luis Borges: “Blindness”
Q Hubert Butler: “Beside the Nore” and “Aunt Harriet”
K E.M. Korian: “Some Blind Alleys: A Letter”


1 Roland Barthes: “Leaving the Movie Theatre”
2 Natalia Ginzburg: “He and I”
3 Carlos Fuentes: “How I Started to Write”
4 Wole Soyinka: “Why Do I Fast?”
5 Sara Suleri: “Meatless Days”
6 Henry David Thoreau: “Walking”
7 H. L. Mencken: “On Being an American”
8 Robert Benchley: “My Face”
9 James Thurber: “The Secret Life of James Thurber”
10 F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The Crack-Up”
J E.B. White: “Once More to the Lake” and “The Ring of Time”
Q M.F.K. Fisher: “Once a Tramp, Always”
K Mary McCarthy: “My Confession”


1 Seymour Krim: “For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business”
2 James Baldwin: “Notes of a Native Son” and “Alas, Poor Richard”
3 Gore Vidal: “Some Memories of the Glorious Bird and an Earlier Self”
4 Adrienne Rich: “Split at the Root”
5 Edward Hoagland: “The Courage of Turtles” and “The Threshold and the Jolt of Pain”
6 Wendell Berry: “An Entrance to the Woods”
7 Joan Didion: “Goodbye to All That”
8 Annie Dillard: “Seeing”
9 Richard Selzer: “The Knife”
10 Philip Lopate: “Against Joie de Vivre”
J Scott Russell Sanders: “Under the Influence”
Q Gayle Pemberton: “Do He Have Your Number, Mr Jeffrey?”
K Richard Rodriquez: “Late Victorians”

And my first drawn card is the Nine of Clubs, which belongs to Joseph Addison: “Nicolini and the Lions.” I’m going to try to read it by Wednesday, with perhaps a post on it by the weekend.

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11 Responses to Deal Me In Essayist Challenge

  1. I love the format of this challenge.. I should take the time to come up with my own deck. Although that would mean being behind already?

    Good luck with yours! Essays seem like a suitable way to fill up the deck. And like you said, this format might help you read them all :-)

    • Teresa says:

      The format is pretty flexible, so I don’t think you’d need to consider yourself behind if you were to start in a week or two. Jay actually suggests a couple of options for partial decks on the challenge sign-up page.

  2. Pingback: Deal Me In – Week 1 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

  3. Stefanie says:

    What a fun and clever challenge! Good luck and enjoy!

  4. Jenny says:

    I love this idea — it would be really fun to get through a book of essays or an anthology of poems this way. I may join you another time.

    • Teresa says:

      It does seem perfect for this anthology in particular.

      I also really like the idea of dedicating each suit to a particular theme or genre to create some built-in variety while keeping up the habit of reading short works.

  5. Jay says:

    I have really enjoyed seeing how many of the participants have customized the deal me in challenge to fit their interests (or TBR lists!). So many great and creative ideas! My favorite so far may be Randall’s. He’s using four of the annual volumes of The Best American Short Stories series, each year supplying the stories for a suit, AND each year he picked also represented a landmark year in his life. Wish I had thought of that one. :-) Good luck with the challenge!

    • Teresa says:

      That is a cool idea! But really the whole deck of cards idea is just ingenious for setting up a weekly challenge like this, so you get a lot of credit for getting everybody thinking!

  6. A fabulous and fun idea!

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