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The Best American Essays 2005 (The Best American Series) Paperback – October 5, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Printing edition (October 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618357130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618357130
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Author and New Yorker staff writer Orlean (The Orchid Thief) says in her introduction that the best essays are not mere records of a subject but are, rather, extraordinary accounts that "reflect the thinking and emotions of the writer." While many (perhaps too many) of the 25 essays here come from the New Yorker, small magazines are represented, and the writing is anything but conventional. Each work pulls the reader deep into the author's world; each is a remarkable first-person account of a life. Only one, Mark Greif's sharp rant "Against Exercise," deviates from this form. Food is a recurring theme. E.J. Levy remembers his mother by way of the romantic Julia Child meals she prepared while he was growing up. David Foster Wallace details everything the reader could possibly want to know about the lobster. Other topics vary from Cathleen Schine's moving discussion of attempting to save her dangerous and self-destructive dog to David Sedaris's humorous tribute to his boyfriend, "Old Faithful." Whatever the topic, this popular series continues to delight and surprise, and per Orlean's definition of an excellent essay, provides a singular glimpse into the authors' lives. (Oct. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The attractions of this distinguished annual collection are many. There's the ah-ha pleasure of recognizing the guest editor as an exemplary essayist, the quick scan to ascertain how many contributors' names are familiar and how many are new, and the pep-rally aspect of embracing a literary form cherished by many for its intimacy, versatility, and provocation yet still viewed by others as a lesser endeavor than fiction or poetry. In marking the twentieth anniversary of the Best American Essays series, Atwan remembers that in the early days he felt the need to "boost the spirit of essayists," whereas now he can confidently assert that essays are on much firmer ground. Certainly Orlean had no trouble selecting 25 superlative essays that "take a small notion and find the universe inside it." Her choices include Jonathan Franzen on Peanuts; Mark Grief's welcome critique, "Against Exercise"; poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser on the repercussions of a murder; and Sam Pickering and Cathleen Schine pondering dogs. 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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By cs211 on June 17, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Guest editor Susan Orlean has served up an anthology of essays that emphasizes intelligent, well-written, powerful works that leave an impression long after one finishes reading them. There is a definite New York / Northeast intelligentsia bias in her selections, and for some reason dogs and cooking appear repeatedly as subjects, but aside from these quirks I feel she has performed her job admirably, and created the strongest volume over the past four years of this series (which is how long I've been reading it).

There are more than a few memorable essays in this volume. The most memorable essay is also the most maddening, Mark Greif's "Against Exercise". One hopes that Greif wrote this essay as an intellectual exercise, similar to an assignment in a debating society in which one has to create winning arguments for a position that is directly opposite one's own beliefs. Greif's essay is entirely one-sided, and he does an incredible smear job against a practice (exercise) that would certainly benefit the country as a whole if more Americans did it regularly. I was almost compelled to write a rebuttal, but refrained from doing so on the hope that Greif was just kidding.

Memorable, well-written essays that were enjoyable as opposed to maddening included:

-- Roger Angell's "La Vie en Rose": a beautiful reminiscence of the author's taste of "the good life" among the elite in post-war Europe.

-- Paul Crenshaw's "Storm Country": a powerful first-person account of what it is like to live in Tornado Alley in Arkansas.

-- Jonathan Lethem's "Speak Hoyt-Schemerhorn": an engaging essay about, of all things, a subway station in Brooklyn, whose history mirrors the changing times of the city and society.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
It's true that six of the twenty-five essays here were previously published in The New Yorker and that guest editor Susan Orlean is a staff writer for The New Yorker. But you don't have to work for The New Yorker to think that it, along with Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Magazine, contain the best essay writing in America today.

I think it would hard for any guest editor to go too far wrong, given that the assignment is to pick twenty-five essays from one hundred that have been selected by the Series Editor and his staff from the hundreds of essays submitted. Presumably, any twenty-five would be pretty good.

The subject matter in Best American Essays 2005 is all over the place. There are essays about hummingbirds, diagramming sentences, forgetfulness, and robots. I start all the essays and end up skipping or skimming about half. But the half that I do read are what essays ought to be, thoughtful pieces of writing that make you think, and maybe even change the way you think.

Some of the grabbers in this volume are Oliver Sacks' mind-bending Speed, about how we perceive time; Cathleen Schine's Dog Trouble, a remarkable narration about how she dealt with her psychotic dog; Jonathan Franzen's The Comfort Zone, about his childhood fascination with Charles Schulz and Peanuts; and David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, examining lobsters from more angles than you thought possible, all of them riveting.

One of the things I enjoy most about anthologies like this is that I can re-read old favorites like David Sedaris and Oliver Sacks, as well as find writers whose work is new to me. I'm delighted to find, just as I've finished reading Consider the Lobster, that David Foster Wallace has a new collection of his essays out that is going right on my to-read list.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Powell on January 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
Robert Atwan is an absolutely marvelous editor of this series. But the guest editors, lately, are not literary enough--or rather their choices aren't. When you reread essays selected by Elizabeth Hardwick ('86) or Cynthia Ozick ('98), they hold up beautifully. I'm not sure Orlean's pieces are as timeless. It must be hard, after all these years, to keep finding distinguished new guest editors, so I certainly can't blame Atwan for turning to glossy article writers.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on January 22, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I sympathize with the worthy aims of this compilation. It would be shame for such magnificent pieces of writing to remain ephemeral, never to be aired outside the pages of magazines. Yet the mixture is indigestible. I found it hard to read it through and shift my moods. It was like eating through a buffet table. Probably reading through it is the wrong way to do it. You should browse and pick on one that interests you, but that's exactly what you do at the newsstand or thumbing through a magazine, and that's where I'm afraid these belong. Two of the best essays for me were the Foreword and Introduction by Susan Orlean and Robert Atwan,which discuss the place of the essay in modern literature. The reason the they were the best was because they caught and held me at the moment where I was deciding whether to read a book of essays. That's the point I'm trying to make. Maybe I'll come back to David Foster Wallace's essay next time I'm deciding whether to eat lobster or to Paul Crenshaw's next time there's a tornado warning.

Meanwhile I'll keep up my subscriptions to the New York Times, The Times Literary Supplement, Asimov's and Antioch Review and pick up the Atlantic and New Yorker at Penn Station and I'll feel I've done my duty by the essay.
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