The essay is a genre that has fallen much out of favor. Readers don't want to buy collections of essays, so publishers turn up their nose at them—and, to be sure, teachers and students don't spend much time considering essays qua essays, either their writing or reading.

But I adore essays. And one of the great essayists of our time is Alan Jacobs, who teaches English at Wheaton College, and is currently at work on a biography of C. S. Lewis. In Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling, he brings together a dozen gems, a few of which were first published in Books & Culture. Jacobs's essays are perfect. They recall 19th-century miniatures, small paintings you could hold in your hand, paintings of such detail and depth and artistry that they deftly captured a person, and sometimes a world. Alan Jacobs' essays are like that. (By the way, if you missed it, you should pick up his first collection, A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age.)

I get jealous when I sit down with this book. I wonder: where did he learn to craft sentences this well? And, how does he know so much about so many things? That is another way of saying that this book is learned, and elegant, and surprising. There's a probing reading of W. H. Auden (the poet on whom Jacobs first cut his scholarly teeth), which asks, pointedly, why Christians "are so indifferent to Auden." That is followed by an exposition of "Iris Murdoch's Added Vowel"; the vowel is "o," and the essay concerns how the Platonic novelist and philosopher understood both God and the Good. And there's also a reading of P. T. Anderson's Magnolia—upon reading Jacobs' account, I felt for the first time that I understood that concluding scene, the one where Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour ...

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