Updated: January 11, 2020

When writing an essay, you need to apply at least two types of critical thinking. First, you will be thinking about your subject. When you have finished the essay, you need to look at your own work with a critical eye, which you may have to do several times.

The University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill Writing Center has an excellent section on their website for Tips and Tools. There are documents on a variety of topics to help students write and write well. They even have a document about “Procrastination” and how to overcome it.

Book cover for Changing my mind : occasional essays
Changing my mind : occasional essays
Smith, Zadie.
Call Number: 824 S664
The nimble-minded Smith turns her powers of observation towards a variety of subjects, including Katharine Hepburn, Barack Obama, E.M. Forster, terrible movies, Fawlty Towers, and the craft of writing.

Book cover for The collected schizophrenias : essays
The collected schizophrenias : essays
Wang, Esme Weijun,
Call Number: 616.8982 W246

Schizophrenia--or, in the author's case, schizoaffective disorder--can be a devastating and alienating diagnosis, cloaked in stigma and stereotypes. Wang's eloquent and incisive essays cut through this stigma, using wide-ranging topics (hospitalization, fashion, cinema, pilgrimage) to explore what it means to live with psychosis.

Book cover for The Complete Essays
The Complete Essays
Montaigne, Michel de, 1533-1592.
Call Number: 844 M761-11 2003

Montaigne's essays were ultimately written for Montaigne. I often wonder how honest he was in writing the essays. He seems truthful enough, but from the beginning, he makes it very clear that someday he would publish his book. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Montaigne’s Essays is not a philosophical work concerned with debating the right and wrong, or piercing the veil of reality and gazing at the metaphysical truth. It is not a memoir or an autobiography, since he cares little for specific, factual events themselves, instead focusing on their impact on his mind. No, this book is more closely related to a work of fiction. Though the man lived, breathed and impacted his time and place, his thoughts, however clear, are now only real in print, like any other novel or poem dreamt by a beautiful mind. Montaigne is a character who ponders almost everything and leaves me thinking on these subjects and wanting more. He thought, questioned, and changed his mind in the process. He wrote those ruminations down and provided us with a wonderful template for the fiction in our minds.

Book cover for A Craving for Swan
A Craving for Swan
Codrescu, Andrei, 1946-
Call Number: 818 C671

For many years Andrei Codrescu was a regular commentator on NPR. This collection reflects his wry, sardonic and yet optimistic view of life. Beware of the seductive charm in the brief titles because you will not necessarily know where Codrescu is taking you.

Book cover for Feel Free: Essays
Feel Free: Essays
Smith, Zadie,
Call Number: 824 S664-1

Best known for her novels, Zadie Smith’s essays cover modern culture, politics, and personal thoughts.

Book cover for The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays
The Hall of Uselessness: Collected Essays
Leys, Simon, 1935-2014.
Call Number: 844 L685 2013

Pierre Ryckmans (pen name Simon Leys), was a true Renaissance man, who read and wrote about wide-ranging subjects. His points of view are fresh, startling and make you think. You may not agree with his ideas, but as with good essayists, he justifies his analysis.

Book cover for In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays
In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays
Russell, Bertrand, 1872-1970.
Call Number: 824 R961-1

Bertrand Russell, philosopher and social critic, is provocative and sometimes maddening in his opinions.

Book cover for The Little, Brown Handbook
The Little, Brown Handbook
Fowler, H. Ramsey (Henry Ramsey).
Call Number: 808 F786 2001

Takes students and others through the writing process, from idea to finished document; the basic essay to academic papers. Includes grammar, punctuation, word usage. Excellent alphabetically arranged index of topics.

Book cover for The Measure of Her Powers: An M.F.K. Fisher Reader
The Measure of Her Powers: An M.F.K. Fisher Reader
Fisher, M. F. K. (Mary Frances Kennedy), 1908-1992.
Call Number: 641.092 F535-6

W. H. Auden said, “I do not know of anyone in the States who writes better prose.” M. F. K. Fisher wrote about food, as a subject and as a symbol of life, and was a unique stylist.

Book cover for No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters
No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters
Le Guin, Ursula K.
Call Number: 814 L521

Best known for science fiction and fantasy novels, Ursula Le Guin was a master essay writer. Direct, acerbic, witty and funny are attributes of her writing.

Book cover for Notes to self : essays
Notes to self : essays
Pine, Emilie,
Call Number: 301.4129415 P649 2019

Pine's essays cover difficult moments and milestones in her life, from caring for an alcoholic father to miscarriages, with an unflinching honesty that can be difficult to read, but impossible to turn away from.

Book cover for See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism, & Commentary
See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism, & Commentary
Moore, Lorrie,
Call Number: 809 M822

Novelist, short story writer, essayist and cultural analyst, Lorrie Moore’s collection of essays mostly cover literary analysis, but other essays are about current events and politics. She is never mean-spirited, but not shy in expressing her negative critical analysis.

Book cover for Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays
Didion, Joan.
Call Number: 973.92 D556 2008

The Scheherazade of the essay, as she lures you in with that first sentence, and then takes you places never imagined. She melds analysis and emotional reactions, which takes time and talent to do well.

Book cover for Smith On Wry or: The Art of Coming Through
Smith On Wry or: The Art of Coming Through
Smith, Jack, 1916-1996.
Call Number: 817 S6514-1

For over 30 years Jack Smith was a daily columnist for the Los Angeles Times. There were many readers who often skipped the headline news to first read Smith’s column. Many of the essays were anecdotally based, which is not an easy task.

Book cover for Whatever It Is, I Don't Like It: The Best of Howard Jacobson
Whatever It Is, I Don't Like It: The Best of Howard Jacobson
Jacobson, Howard.
Call Number: 824 J175 2012

A selection of Howard Jacobson’s witty and insightful columns in the British newspaper, The Independent. Check out his other collection the dog’s last walk.

Book cover for And Yet ... : Essays
And Yet ... : Essays
Hitchens, Christopher,
Call Number: 828 H674-4

Here is a good sampling of essays by Christopher Hitchens, who could be very opinionated and biting, but never dull.