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The Best American Essays 2000 (The Best American Series) Paperback – October 26, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

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Alan Lightman has put together a collection chock full of questioning and struggling. As he writes in his introduction: "For me, the ideal essay is not an assignment, to be dispatched efficiently and intelligently, but an exploration, a questioning, an introspection. I want to see a piece of the essayist. I want to see a mind at work, imagining, spinning, struggling to understand." The Best American Essays 2000 features the usual forays into memory (Fred D'Aguiar on his family), travelogue (Mary Gordon on Rome), and identity (Geeta Kothari on learning to eat like an American). But this guest editor has a marked fondness for essays that make the reader engage with ethical or philosophical problems. In an arresting piece, Peter Singer describes the Brazilian film Central Station, wherein a woman is promised a thousand dollars if she will deliver a homeless boy to a certain address. "She delivers the boy, gets the money, spends some of it on a television set, and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition." When she learns the boy will likely be killed and his organs sold for transplantation, she resolves to return the money and save him. Singer asks, "What is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one, knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?" He follows his logic to the end of the essay, where he concludes, "whatever money you're spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away."

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, struggles with the appellation "hate crime." He contrasts the gay-bashing murder of Matthew Shepard with the abduction of a girl by her boyfriend: "Which crime was more filled with hate? Once you ask the question, you realize how difficult it is to answer. Is it more hateful to kill a stranger or a lover? Is it more hateful to kill a child than an adult?" And physicist Steven Weinberg takes on the most infinite of domains, wondering "whether the universe shows signs of having been designed by a deity more or less like those of traditional monotheistic religions...." This kind of passionate questioning is the stuff of late-night bull sessions, something most of us don't have time for in our day-to-day lives. It's refreshing, for once, to be put on the spot. --Claire Dederer

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The editors of the newest volume in this consistently excellent series have selected 21 vigorous essays, many of which address an issue crucial to our time: just how seduced and addled are we by technology? Some essays are intimate, such as Andre Aciman's haunting narrative on memories of place, and Guyanese poet Frank D'Aguira's musical and arresting account of his parents' mythic courtship and doomed marriage. Others are invigoratingly polemic, including Wendell Berry's discussion of the urgent need for renewed respect for such essential human activities as farming, and Ian Buruma's finely shaded inquiry into the cult of victimhood. And two are poetic: William Gass' meditation on books, reading, and libraries; and Mark Slouka's musing on the death of silence. But all share the vitality of thought and clarity of style the best of the form exemplifies, and many deepen the conversation about how science, technology, and rampant commercialism are changing our environment and our consciousness. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Edition edition (October 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061803580X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618035809
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,645,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By David Kleist on October 27, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Each year, I rate each essay in the current volume of this laudable series, wandering back after the passage of some time to see if my views have remained stable. Usually, for better or worse, my opinions do not vary much as the years pass--probably the sign of a stilted and boring personality.
This year's volume seems particularly rich to me.
Cynthia Ozick's essay "The Synthetic Sublime," an homage to New York City, is my favorite. It is a stylistic tour de force which for me echoes James and Wharton, two other writers with New York on their minds.
Eight others merit my highest rating: Fred D'Aguiar's poignant "A Son in Shadow," where the author attempts to capture in an amber prose the father whom he never knew; William Gass's "In Defense of the Book," an erudite and witty apologia for the printed page; Richard McCann's "The Resurrectionist," a sensitive exploration of a liver transplant; Scott Russell Sander's heart-of-the-country meditation on mortality and God, "The Force of Spirit"; Lynne Sharon Schwartz's sardonic "At a Certain Age," a more comic take on mortality; Peter Singer's provocative (and slightly annoying) "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" (in which Mr. Singer reveals to me that he must be a lucky man without credit card debt or a thankless job); Floyd Skloot's astonishing "Gray Area: Thinking with a Damaged Brain," which reveals a remarkable life force hard at work in a man who refuses to give up after a virus destroyed much of his brain; and Mark Slouka's "Listening for Silence," a much needed commentary on our noisy modern world.
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Format: Paperback
This is my second volume from the Best American "Essay" series. Out of the 24 essays or so only 6 stood out enough to mark them for later re-reading. I guess after 8 years since its publication some feel dated or not as relevant, but it's also possible to get a broader perspective of what has lasting value.

My six favorites are William Gass' "In Defense of the Book" (Harper's Magazine) which poetically describes the many ways books are superior to digital. This is a common theme among many writers but Gass approaches it in a new and original perspective, and without being Luddite. In Richard McCann's "The Resurrectionist" (Tin House) he describes what it was like to loose a kidney and have a transplant, I was really moved by his heroic fortitude and truth of experience. Peter Singer in "The Singer Solution to World Poverty" (New York Times Magazine) lays bare the ethical delima of rich nations and poor nations on a very personal level. He posits, what would you do if you could save a child from being hit by a train by sacrificing your car in its path (which contains all your worldly goods). Likewise he provocatively suggests individuals from rich countries should be sending excess wealth - beyond basic needs - to those in the poor countries. The essay "Gray Area: Thinking with a Damaged Brain" (Creative Nonfiction) is a fascinating first-person essay by Floyd Skloot who has a serious brain injury. He describes its effects both in an external social sense and inner self. Cheryl Strayed in "Heroin/e" (Doubletake) writes about her mothers death from cancer and her own subsequent degeneration into a serious heroin addiction. A dark, sad and aesthetically beautiful piece. Andrew Sullivan in "What's So Bad About Hate?
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. G. Heiser on January 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
Essays are a bit like wine: the amount of material consumed is small, the taste can be extraordinarily intense, and the effect often lingers long afterwards. Essays can be bubbly and bright, like Champagne, or dark and moody like a Shiraz. An anthology like this book is something of a wine tasting, prepared by an experienced sommolier.
Alan Lightman, the editor of this year's volume, is apparently one who practices what he preaches, beginning his introduction with a lively essay about his family's Year 2000 new year's eve celebration. Just as I was thinking to myself that it was as if I had actually attended that party, he abruptly ends that story to explain the philosophy of choice that guided him in selecting the 21 essays appearing in this book, writing "The qualities I treasure most about these essays are their authenticity and life. In reading an essay, I want to feel that I'm communing with a real person..."
I doubt if anyone will find the taste of each of these essays immediately pleasing. Is it the point of such a sampling to be consistently pleasurable to every reader? I think not. Lightman has carefully chosen for his readers a wide selection of wines, including multiple varieties from several regions, and I had not tasted all of these wines before. Some were exquisite to me, evoking memories that I had not visited for many years, but not all were necessarily pleasing to my palate. Yet each is a sophisticated wine, with complex aftertastes; well-crafted by experienced vintners. You will never know what you like if you don't try new things.
Perhaps some potential readers would appreciate a few more practical details about the content of the book. There are several common themes woven through this collection.
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The Best American Essays 2000 (The Best American Series)
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