From the discovery of the author’s face in a century-old photograph to a triple-amputee hospice director working at the border of life and death, here are thirteen hopeful, heartbreaking, and profound essays from “one of the most intelligent, compassionate, and curious authors working today” (Elizabeth Gilbert).
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Lit Hub
Beneath the self-assured and serious faces we wear, every human life is full of longing, guesswork, and confusion—a scramble to do the best we can and make everything up as we go along. In these wide-ranging essays, Jon Mooallem chronicles the beauty of our blundering and the inescapability of our imperfections. He investigates the collapse of a multimillion-dollar bird-breeding scam run by an aging farmer known as the Pigeon King, intimately narrates a harrowing escape from California’s deadliest wildfire, visits an eccentric Frenchman building a town at what he claims is the center of the world, shadows a man through his first day of freedom after twenty-one years in prison, and more—all with a deep conviction that it’s our vulnerability, not our victories, that connect us.
Mooallem’s powers of perception have established him as one of the most distinctive, empathic, and clear-sighted narrative journalists working today. The Wall Street Journal has called his writing “as much art as it is journalism,” and Jia Tolentino has praised his “grace and command.” In Serious Face, Mooallem brings to life the desperate hopes and urgent fears of the people he meets, telling their stories with empathy, humor, insight, and kindness. These elegant, moving essays form an idiosyncratic tapestry of human experience: our audacity and fallibility, our bumbling and goodwill. In moments of calamity and within the extreme absurdity of everyday life, can we learn to love the people we really are, behind the serious faces we show the world?
Jon Mooallem is a longtime writer at large for The New York Times Magazine and a contributor to numerous radio shows and other magazines, including This American Life and Wired. He is the author of This Is Chance!, which was chosen as a best book of the year by BuzzFeed, and Wild Ones, which was chosen as a notable book of the year by The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and Canada’s National Post, among others. He lives on Bainbridge Island, outside Seattle, with his family.
“John Muir once said, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.’ Was he talking about Jon Mooallem’s essay collection? I think he might have been! It’s hard to imagine how Mooallem manages to thread the complex lacework of thought so elegantly between the personal and the universal, the manmade and the natural, the profane and the mundane, the serious and the absurd. But somehow, he does it all. And what a gift for us that he does.”—Samin Nosrat, author of Salt Fat Acid Heat
“Every Jon Mooallem piece is a gift to the world, and a collection of such pieces is priceless. The varied topics reflect the boundless, whimsical curiosity of his mind. Each is like a puzzle box, with deeper profundities unfolding with every new passage. And the writing is just breathtakingly good; Mooallem is a master storyteller, working at the peak of his craft.”—Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes
“At some point in nearly every Jon Mooallem essay, there is an unspooling. He hits a pressure point in your tight little heart that you didn’t realize you were carrying around, and with his words—the meaning he wraps around the confusion of this world—he offers fleeting but quite potent relief. This is a book that might unexpectedly cause tears. This is a book that is good to keep near.”—Lulu Miller, co-founder of Invisibilia and author of Why Fish Don’t Exist
“Jon Mooallem’s essays are literary alchemy. All this hard work and discovery and thought and humanity gets distilled in the alembic of his Jon Mooallem brain until this gleaming thing emerges: a piece unlike any you could have imagined. He questions the givens, rethinks the dogma, visits one more person, ponders, asks, explores. He’s just so damn good.”—Mary Roach, author of Stiff
“A master essayist ranges far and wide with aplomb. In his latest book, New York Times Magazine writer at large [Jon] Mooallem gathers a diverse dozen of his thoughtful, probing essays. He suggests that the thread holding them together is one line: ‘Why are we not better than we are?’ . . . A winning, captivating, engrossing collection.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Mooallem brings together the best of his journalistic essays to create an intellectually moving collection. Readers will laugh and tear up as Mooallem makes us care about his subjects and feel better off for knowing their stories.”—Booklist (starred review)
“[A] rich collection of essays . . . Mooallem has a real knack for evoking places, people, and emotions, and the individuals he writes about put a human face on larger issues such as climate change and conservation. This is well worth the price of admission.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)