The personal essay is just like people: full of too much information, inherently dull, and a staple fascination of weekend media. The men and women of American letters just really love to get personal on their days off. We reward those who go too far.
Saddest thing, found in "Lives," the New York Times mag back-pager:
After being forced to retire from her career in television in her late '50s, author Sara Davidson is snubbed by her college-age children: "Whenever I called them, they were I.M.-ing their friends, doing homework or watching a movie. They seemed irritated by whatever I did or said, including 'Good morning.''" :(
Best moment of redemption, found in "Lives":
Davidson's son admitting, at the end of her essay, that he "really enjoyed" skiing with Mom, even though she is so old.
Best goal set forth, found in the New York Times Funny Pages True-Life Tale:
To find baby pandas! Starlee Kine treks to China, and returns with a superb essay. She and her friends had heard that "visitors could go right up to the babies and give them a hug." This is the best goal!
Most bizarre ethical distinction, found in "Confessions of a Book Abuser, the NYT Book Review's back-pager:
"While I take great delight in marking significant passages, jotting down notes and even doodling in my books, I do draw the line at highlighter pens." —Ben Schott. (Revelation: sometimes destroying books is okay, sometimes it's not, and if you cut out pages just so, you might be able to hide stuff in them.)
Best quote that was probably never said, found in True-Life Tale:
"That's crazy! You've gone too far! You've crossed the line!"—Starlee Kine and her friends, upon hearing that hugging a panda for five minutes cost $150.
Best event that probably never happened, found in True-Life Tale:
A panda sneezing so hard that it somersaulted. A panda would never do this.
Runner-up, Best event that probably never happened, found in NYT's Play mag "Our Tribe" column:
"Did you see Mommy's hip check? Doesn't Mommy do good hip checks?"—Daniel Coyle, after his wife starts playing ice hockey with her girlfriends and takes to it with more enthusiasm than he's comfortable with, ultimately forming a team called the Spit Sisters who play pickup games around Alaska.