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Serious Face: Essays

by Jon Mooallem
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?
in Our Country, Our Culture
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Published May 2022

Random House

Hardcover, 320 pages

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“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