Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts

Sideways Review: A Crush


John Proctor

on “Joyas Voladoras”

by Brian Doyle

The Best American Essays 2005


~1st in a series

I think I’m developing a crush on you, Brian Doyle.

Judging from the handful of your essays I’ve now read, you’re just as much a poet as an essayist, and you also seem to be a compulsive lister. I like poetry, or at least poetic language, and I love listing things.

All of your essays I’ve read have been relatively short, the language condensed to a jewel-like shimmer. This particular essay is about hummingbirds – or joyas voladoras, flying jewels – but then again, it’s not. It’s about the heart, its capabilities and limitations:

Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

You then describe the heart of the blue whale, which is as big as a child’s room, then delineate the number of chambers each phylum in the animal kingdom contains. And finally, you send my own heart aflutter with an opus-like closing paragraph about the human heart’s capacity:

So much held in a heart in a lifetime…We are utterly open with no one, in the end – not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart.

I want to diagram this essay, down to the sentence, so I can learn to make readers feel the duende your three pages laid on me. And if that’s not love…


John Proctor, who can also be found at  Numéro Cinq, is reading one volume of The Best American Essays a month for the next two years. He also has a crush on his wife.


Other reviews in this series can be found here.


“Joyas Voladoras” by Brian Doyle
The Best American Essays 2005 
Susan Orlean, Editor
Robert Atwan, Series Editor
Houghton Mifflin

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Martin Brandt April 18, 2012 at 1:48 pm

His essay “Altar Boy” (Best American Essays, 1998) is one of my favorite essays of all time.


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