Monday, February 15, 2010

An Essay at Face Value: Anne Fadiman

Another of my favorite essayists is Anne Fadiman, former editor of the American Scholar magazine, which used to be a champion of the personal essay, although it seems to be trending away from more intimate authorial voices now and more towards politics and world events.

Anne Fadiman has an essay on ice cream. She tells a little anecdote about an ice cream truck, talks about how much she loves ice cream, goes into the history of ice cream and mentions some famous ice-cream related passages from ancient Greece, or maybe Rome, and has a grand finish with a near death experience in a canoe with an ice cream maker.

This essay is not about death or loss or how eating ice cream reminds her of emigrating from a war torn country. It is about ice cream, and that's it. It may also be about Ms. Fadiman herself, letting us get to know her charming authorial persona. But really, it's just about ice cream. And if you aren't interested in ice cream, you probably would skip this essay.

The Essay is available in Fadiman's essay collection At Large and At Small. Here's the first bit:

When I called the Häagen-Dazs Consumer Relations Department a few days ago to verify the butterfat content of Mint Chip, I was alarmed to hear the following after-hours message: “If you have a medical emergency with one of our products that requires immediate attention, please call Poison Control at 612-347-2101.” What medical emergency could a few scoops of ice cream possibly precipitate? Hippocrates, or one of the anonymous writers who were later known as Hippocrates, warned that snow-chilled beverages might “suddenly throw . . . the body into a different state than it was before, producing thereby many ill effects.”


  1. Mm, nice shift in diction from the consumer-relations department to "snow-chilled beverages" and "suddenly throw...producing thereby many ill effects." I like the idea of ice cream suddenly throwing me somewhere.

  2. Yes, its a nice micro-version of the essay form---there are twists and turns but the reader doesn't get lost.

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