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Our Best American Essays

Ultimate Glory

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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Get ready for Ultimate Glory, the book, due out next June 2017.

As for the essay below, I’ve been thrilled by the response.  At this point, over 32,000 of you have seen it, with the help of Longform and USA Today, and plenty of Ultimate players, including some who weren’t born when these events occurred, have told me that this echoes their own ultimate conversions.


A Frisbee Memoir


What you gave me you gave whole

But as for telling

Me how to best use it

You weren’t a genius at that.

Twenties, my soul

Is yours for the asking

You know that, if you ever come back


“To My Twenties” by Kenneth Koch


We labor over our big decision and big dreams, but sometimes it’s the small things that change our lives forever.  What could be smaller than this: It is the first week of my freshman year of college and I, looking for a sport to play, am walking down to the boathouse for crew, resigning myself to four years of servitude as a galley slave, when I see a Frisbee flying across the street.  The Frisbee, tossed from one long-haired boy to another, looks like freedom to me.  Then I notice that there are several Frisbees flying back and forth between a band of young men, all wearing shorts, with cleats hanging over their shoulders.  At the time I am quite shy but, uncharacteristically, I cross the street and ask them where they are going.  To Ultimate Frisbee practice, it turns out, and I am going with them.     Continue reading →

Winter Solstice

categories: Cocktail Hour / Getting Outside / Our Best American Essays

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From my book Temple Stream [then as now, though the dogs are gone, and a new one in their place, pretty Baila, Elysia not only born since (her birth part of the narrative) but eleven years old!]:


Winter Solstice


Starting as early as October, but more likely November in a given year [and not till mid-December in 2011], Temple Stream begins to freeze.  Every day the ice changes, grows, shrinks back, advances.


And every morning the dogs and I hiked down there to have a look, and hiked down again each evening, just to see what had changed.  Ice paved the way: the muddy parts of the path were thrown up in frost castles, delicate keeps and crenellations of dirt and ice that collapsed with a satisfying crunch underfoot.  The kingfisher was quietly gone, the mallard Continue reading →

Learning to Surf

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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We are in the process of converting and re-stocking are other categories, including “Our Best American Essays,” which this is a part of.  To read this essay in its original form as it appeared in Orion magazine (beautiful painting and all), click here.


by David Gessner

           Out just beyond the breaking waves, they sit there bobbing, two groups of animals, avian and human, pelicans and surfers.  As they rise and fall on the humps of water, the pelicans look entirely unperturbed, their foot-long bills pulled like blades into scabbards, fitting like species-wide puzzle pieces into the curves of their throats.  The surfers, mostly kids, look equally casual.  In fact one girl takes this to an almost ostentatious extreme: she lies on her back on the surfboard, looking up at the sky, with one leg crossed over the other in an exaggerated attitude of relaxation.  For the most part the birds and surfers ignore each other, rising up and dropping down together as the whole ocean heaves and then sighs.   

          Pelicans are particularly buoyant birds and they bob high on the water as the surfers paddle and shift in anticipation.  There is no mistaking that this is the relatively tense calm of before, rest before exertion.  Soon the waves pick up and the surfers paddle furiously, gaining enough speed to pop up and ride the crests of breaking surf.  They glide in toward the beach where I stand, the better ones carving the water and ducking under and cutting back up through the waves.

We only moved to this island town a month ago, but I have been here long enough to know that those who pursue this sport are guided by a kind of laid-back monomania.  Each morning I bring my four-month old daughter down to the local coffee shop, and each morning the talk is of one thing.  It isn’t only the southern lilt that is new to me, but the surfing lingo.  The ocean, I’ve learned, is always referred to as “it.”

  Continue reading →

Classic Bill: “Into Woods”

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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Dave and Poppy, October 12, 2011

Gardening one day in the spring of 1992, first year in Maine,  I looked at my dirty and freshly blistered hands, and thought of my days in construction.  Idea for an essay.  I wrote the words “my hands” on a seed packet and the packet went into the ideas folder.  Another idea I’d had was to devote Saturday mornings  not to the novel I was working on (eventually to be The Smallest Color) but to shorter work.  I went into the ideas file–a bunch of paper scraps and napkins and coasters and pulled out that seed packet.  The piece didn’t start out being about my father and Continue reading →

Royal Visitor

categories: Cocktail Hour / Our Best American Essays

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As the best writers in the world, Dave and I wanted to be sure visitors to Bill and Dave’s could easily find and comment on our work.  So our web designer, Randy Skidmore of Subpar Design, has set up the Bill and Dave’s “Our Best American Essays” page, formally static, so that we can post work old and new, and readers can respond.   I’m going to launch the new capabilities today with “Royal Visitor,” which I’ve read at a a number of public events and which appeared in Louisville Review #62.  I also posted it on my old Down East blog.  It’s my answer to the FAQ about the writing of memoir: what if there’s material from your life you really can’t use?  The answer in this case is one word: metaphor. Continue reading →