In a world where you have more options for satisfying your longform reading needs than ever, your friends here at Flavorwire are taking the time once a week to highlight some of the best that journalism has to offer. Whether they’re unified by topic, publication, writer, their status as classics, or just by a general feeling, these articles all have one thing in common: they’re essential reading. This week, we’re trading the city life for an idyllic country move.
If talking about living in New York City is its own, evergreen genre of writing, that essay has its equal and opposite in the genre of the savvy city resident who ends up living in the country for some period of time — whether it’s a lost year or so in the idyllic land of “upstate” (often Hudson, these days) or moving to a farm for love. Presumably, as New York City becomes a colder, harsher climate for artists, we’ll see more and more essays of this ilk, beyond the perennial tortured missives from The New York Times and Sari Botton’s anthologies on loving and leaving the city, Goodbye to That and October’s Never Can Say Goodbye. Here are five of our favorites:
“The Author of ‘One Man’s Meat’ Talks About Writing and Country Living,” by Robert Van Gelder, The New York Times, August 1942
Was E.B. White the original writer who chucked the glamor of living in New York for the bucolic pleasures of country life (in Maine)? Probably not, as it’s a story old as the hills, but White was certainly among the best — authoring the quintessential city essay, “Here Is New York,” and then turning around and writing a winning book of essays about Maine life, One Man’s Meat. (The Washington Post recently wondered whether White’s version of Maine “still exists.”) In this interview, White tells us that, for him, writing in the country is harder.
“Lincoln, Nebraska: Home on the Prairie,” by Meghan Daum, Smithsonian Magazine, November 2011
Daum, an essayist, columnist for The Los Angeles Times, and author of note whose books include 2001’s My Misspent Youth and November’s The Unnameable, moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. In fact, she pulled off that move in the most baller way possible, writing about her debt and NYC troubles in her essay “My Misspent Youth,” which first ran in The New Yorker. She ended the piece by announcing, well, I’m moving to Nebraska. She did, and this lovely essay details just what her life was like in Lincoln.
“Currency,” by Elisa Albert, The Rumpus, October 2013 (also in Goodbye to All That, edited by Sari Botton)
I’m not sure if there’s a writer out there as messy and honest as Albert (her new book, Afterbirth, is due in February 2015). Her contribution to Goodbye to All That, excerpted on The Rumpus, is a wild bounce between Los Angeles, New York City, and Albany. Her bluntness regarding moving away from the city is like a cool tonic: “There was some idea that it’d be a friendly place, an insta-community kind of place, because people have to stick together, even more so in a postindustrial wasteland kind of place, right? No.”
“The Not-So-Simple Life,” by Whitney Light, Narratively, December 2013
Kate and Dan Marsiglo left their jobs as schoolteachers for the romance of living on an upstate farm in New York. It’s not as idyllic as promised, despite the fact that glossies like Modern Farmer love to highlight people’s country choices. Light has a sensitive eye for the economic realities of their decision, and details their very hard work in clear, bright prose.
“Giving Up My Small-Town Fantasy,” by Reyhan Harmanci, The New York Times, September 2014
In this Opinionator column, Harmanci writes about moving from San Francisco to the idyllic and oh-so-weird town of Hudson, NY, for a job at the delightful print start-up Modern Farmer, the source of many New York Times stories about Hudson’s hipness. Harmanci is an acquaintance, and I lived in the nearby town of Catskill for a bit, so there are some aspects of this essay that resonated strongly — the loneliness — and some that didn’t (to encapsulate the economically specific, tourist-town weirdness of Hudson, you need to spend time there; you need to look into the void and consider living there forever, for one). The comments that this essay generated were actually really fascinating, and it struck a chord with people living upstate who shared their experiences, in manners both both similar to and totally different from Harmanci.