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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all in here
In my opinion, the purpose of literature is to help me see the world through other eyes, and to look beyond the narrow construct of my personal view of 'how things are'. The essay seeks to accomplish this by allowing the author to forward their personal viewpoint on matters of their choosing; a well-written essay will bring the reader into the author's world view,...
Published 14 months ago by KnC Books

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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'll be the judge of that.
Of course, the title is pure advertising. At the very least, Cheryl Strayed hasn't read all the American essays of 2013, so she's hardly in a position to call her selection the best. Unfortunately, a title like "The Best American Essays I Read in 2013" won't move books.

I happen to read a lot of essays, so I looked over the table of contents to see if...
Published 13 months ago by Steven Schwartz


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all in here, October 30, 2013
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KnC Books "kncbooks" (Inland Empire, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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In my opinion, the purpose of literature is to help me see the world through other eyes, and to look beyond the narrow construct of my personal view of 'how things are'. The essay seeks to accomplish this by allowing the author to forward their personal viewpoint on matters of their choosing; a well-written essay will bring the reader into the author's world view, hopefully to expand the reader's viewpoint in the process.

"The Best American Essays 2013" opens to the reader a wide selection of windows on the world. While they are all written from a first-person perspective, the subjects they reveal go beyond simple autobiographical short stories. It's all in here: economics (the subject on everyone's mind), politics, science, psychology, relationships. Every essay reveals not just the author's personal outlook; to the perceptive reader they also show our collective views as Americans.

In this day of sound bites and tweets, maybe it is too much to ask for readers to look beyond the mere words on the page, to read between the lines, to savor and mull over the stories that are laid before us and see the deeper secrets they hold. As Charles Baxter points out in "What Happens in Hell":
"Why do you desire to believe the ideas that you hold dear, the cornerstones of your faith?" Are we more comfortable with our heads in the sand, seeing only that which is directly in front of us? That world where "... people will walk smiling through puddles of your blood, smiling and talking on their cellular phones. They're going to the movies." (J.D. Daniels, "Letter from Majorca").

Editor Cheryl Strayed points out that "Essayists begin with an objective truth and attempt to find a greater, grander truth by testing fact against subjective interpretations of experiences and ideas, memories and theories. They try to make meaning of actual life, even if an awful lot has yet to be figured out." This demands of us as readers to look for the greater truth as well; to not merely look at these stories like we do the evening news: passively absorbing what we are told and moving on to the next. We need to be actively looking within, even as the author shares THEIR experience of the world.

A book to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and purposefully, digging out those golden nuggets of greater truth.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars cheap at twice the price, October 17, 2013
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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"Night" by Alice Munro is well worth the price of admission alone. I found the essays extremely interesting. Some complained that the essays didn't contain, say, a political view. After all this mess with the government shutdown, I was happy _not_ to read anybody's particular political view.

Vanessa Veselka's essay "Highway of Lost Girls" is about M's Veselka's possible escape from being a victim of a truck stop serial killer. It's spooky to realize how close some one can come to danger and somehow not not to become a victim. Of course, M's Veselka is not entirely sure she was at risk, but just the thought is terrifying.
There are a lot of other good essays, too. But these two particularly resonated with me and I thought the pair were good examples of the collection.

I recommend this book highly. You can dive in anywhere in the book and you will find some very good stuff to read.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great collection of personal essays, October 3, 2013
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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This collection of essays starts off strong with Poe Ballantine's story, "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel." Love this piece about his life in Eureka, California! I met Mr. Ballantine at BookExpo this year and he mentioned that he'd had an essay chosen. So glad for him!

While I enjoyed all of the first-person essays in this collection, I have to say that was my favorite. Walter Kirn's "Confessions of an Ex-Mormon" was probably my next favorite. There are quite a few childbirth and motherhood stories, and Megan Stielstra's "Channel B" was my favorite in that genre. (Using a night-vision video monitor, she checks up on not only her own baby, but that of another woman who comes in on a second channel.) Another standout was Dr. Jon Kerstetter's "Triage," about his experience of having to let a soldier injured in combat die.

I'm sure another reader will have his or her own favorites in this collection. That's the beauty of this annual series -- you have more than two dozen authors to choose from. And, in the back of the book is a list of pages upon pages of notable essays that were considered for this volume. I see more than a few I want to look up: "Elvis Presley Has Been Avenged (Sam Butler); "Down and Out in a Repurposed Troop Carrier (Jason Albert); "SJ, Occupy My Heart (Joe Hoover); and "How Georges Simenon Knew Where to Place the Couch" (Myra Jehlen), among many others. All in all, I have a lot of great reading ahead!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High Quality Writing with a Personal Slant, November 30, 2013
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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Where oh where are the kind of essays that are not tied to the author's own, highly personal experiences? Not in this book. No one here writes about a philosophical, literary, or political subject without leading into it by way of a short memoir. In one of my favorite essays in this volume, John Jeremiah Sullivan reflects on the current situation in Ireland, and says some interesting things about Irish history. But the context is his trip to Ireland in search of his own ancestral roots there.

Overall these essays contain a good deal of guilt, a fair amount of violence, and a certain degree of sadness and/or angst. So they are not exactly cheery. People write about girls murdered by a serial killer, about a suicide attempt thankfully interrupted, about battlefield triage. One of the more lighthearted essays is "The Book of Knowledge," reflections about a children's encyclopedia popular in the 1950's. There is nostalgia in this piece and also a sense of loss, but the wonder comes through. I liked that essay quite a bit, and also one called Pigeons, about how a very bright young girl learned compassion through her own childhood travails.

If your experience is like mine, you will find much good writing in this collection, and at least a few essays that move or delight you.
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'll be the judge of that., November 19, 2013
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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Of course, the title is pure advertising. At the very least, Cheryl Strayed hasn't read all the American essays of 2013, so she's hardly in a position to call her selection the best. Unfortunately, a title like "The Best American Essays I Read in 2013" won't move books.

I happen to read a lot of essays, so I looked over the table of contents to see if I could find a familiar name. Outside of Zadie Smith and Alice Munro, no. That could be a good thing, an introduction to great writers I didn't know before. It's not that the essays chosen are incompetently-written, but they seem to be mainly of one type and one rhetorical strategy -- the essayist confesses to something shameful and then has a come-to-Jesus moment, which, one hopes, has point beyond the confines of the writer's psyche. There's nothing wrong with this per se; it's either more or less well done.

However, the essay genre contains worlds and approaches. A good essayist masters several strategies and types: reportage, criticism, memoire, history, science, sports, political analysis and persuasion, and so on. These essays are mostly memoire and mostly, as I say, confessional. The effect of one of these after the other becomes something like whining, and in some of them, the point seems to be "what a sensitive soul am I."

The essays I tended to like confounded these patterns to some extent. Alice Munro's "Night" confesses something disturbing, but winds up affirming the grace of forgiveness. Zadie Smith's "Attunement" (great title!) talks about her rapprochement to the music of Joni Mitchell as a meditation on the evolution of personal taste and the difficulties of overcoming a priori notions of what art should be. Jon Kerstetter explains military triage and discusses its effects on both patients and doctors. Vanessa Vaselka blends autobiography and reporting in a chilling essay on runaway girls.

However, it's pointless to complain that an editor's taste is idiosyncratic. That's a given. I complain that it's a bit narrow. Strayed does provide a list of runners-up, where I found the essayists I normally read. Unfortunately, I had read some of these essays, and I found it hard to consider, say, George Steiner's "Fragments (Somewhat Charred)" or Donald Hall's "Out the Window" as mere honorable mentions among the company of winners.

For me, the book isn't worth its price, but your mileage may vary.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars True stories/true enjoyment, October 15, 2013
By 
Mary Esterhammer-Fic (Morgan Park, Chicago IL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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I was so happy to see this offered on Vine. For decades, I have purchased each annual installment in "The Best American Short Stories" series, along with the annual O. Henry anthology. It's a great way to keep up with current literature without having to troll through magazines. I also occasionally add to that collection with another Best American title or two, and I really like the Mystery and Science & Nature offerings.

But the essays are always a delight. There's some great writing out there, and much of it is work you have to actively seek out in small publications. The editors of this series do that harvesting for you.

You can open this volume to almost any page and find yourself in the midst of a compelling narrative. Some of these authors are familiar, like Alice Munro, and some have only published a few essays or short stories.

Richard Schmitt gives us "Sometimes a Romantic Notion," about his experiences when he was a young man and "ran away to join the circus." Another "runaway" story immediately follows: Vanessa Veselka's "Highway of Lost Girls," where she explores truck-stop serial killings, and the harrowing experience she had when, hitchhiking at age 16, she may or may not have narrowly escaped one of these murderers. Other essays discuss childbirth/motherhood, death and other losses, obsessions, and redemption. There is something for everyone.

If there is one complaint I have, it's that the breadth of writing is a little narrow. That's unavoidable, because one person is the editor and ultimately chose the essays that are included, so how could the selections not reflect her personal biases? But that's okay. Knowing that up front gives the reader permission to skip the essays that don't seem likely to resonate.

Add this to your library, whether you want to occasionally read something powerful yet brief, or if you want to improve your own skills as a writer, and a critical reader, by absorbing some of the finest essays published this year.

They don't call this series "The Best" for nothing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Selection of Essays, January 10, 2014
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This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
My wife is reading this book of essays aloud to me because I am visually impaired. We haven't read all of the essays yet, but thought the introduction by Cheryl Strayed enhanced interest.

The first essay, "Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel" by Poe Ballantine, is at once touching, shocking, and poignant.

Alice Munro's "Night" elicits great sympathy for a family caught up in a struggle to acquire their own farm under the supervision of a father who is a bit paranoid and eccentric.

"Sometimes a Romantic Notion," by Richard Schmitt explores the lure of the circus and the propensity to refer to joining the circus, as "running away to join the circus," as if it were a foregone conclusion that just anyone can join the circus.

Vanessa Veselka's "Highway of Lost Girls" deals with vulnerable runaway teenagers hitching rides at truck stops and the terrible things that sometimes happen to them. Ms. Veselka speaks from experience.

I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of the essays. I certainly recommend the book based on the essays we have read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best American Essays 2013, October 20, 2013
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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In reading this year's edition of the Best American Essays, the format struck me before the content. Most years' editions sequence the essays alphabetically by authors' last names. Not so this year, where editor Cheryl Strayed organizes twenty-six essays in a manner somehow differently. The thematic structure doesn't present itself obviously until readers penetrate well into her sequence. Even afterward, her subtleties aren't necessarily obvious.

The word "essay" has been cheapened by generations of schoolteachers who, lacking any other term for the five-paragraph monotonies students write to prove they've done the reading, yclept them "essays." But this does the idea no justice. This series returns essays to the meaning they had when Montaigne pioneered the form, calling them the French for "attempts." As in, let's try this firework and see what happens.

And boy, oh boy, does something happen. Strayed compiles some well-known authors, including Charles Baxter, Zadie Smith, and Nobel Prize-winner Alice Munro, but she mostly shares less famous writers who, by turning hard, unblinking eyes on their own lives, manage to recount stories that exceed their authors. These writers prove George Bernard Shaw's adage that only the intimately personal ever becomes truly universal.

Some essays address larger topics. Walter Kirn's "Confessions of an Ex-Mormon" answers media stereotypes about Mitt Romney's religion by recounting Kirn's brief flirtation with Mormonism, and how it continues to save his life. Angela Morales' "The Girls in My Town" gently laments how economic realities create two classes in America's wealthiest state. Jon Kerstetter's "Triage" reveals what happens in the moment combat surgeons choose to let a GI die.

Others remain more insular, unpacking something specific to the author. Tod Goldberg's "When They Let Them Bleed" correlates "Boom Boom" Mancini's most famous fight with his own obese, self-mortifying youth. Richard Schmitt's "Sometimes a Romantic Notion" debunks the melodrama behind joining the circus. Steven Harvey's "The Book of Knowledge" reveals what he discovered when he reread his late mother's letters, discovering a disquieting stranger in his house.

Strayed also includes the most chilling essays I've ever seen in this series, Vanessa Veselka's "Highway of Lost Girls" and Matthew Vollmer's "Keeper of the Flame." These two invade readers' consciousness with such incisive power that I dare say nothing more about them. However, Strayed places them very early in the collection, leaving readers' nerves frayed and jangling, prepared for the profound nuances of everything that comes after.

Early essays start big, addressing the authors' personal weight in major issues. There's a great deal of objective fact: the 1987 Black Monday stock collapse, Mitt Romney, a schoolboy's death in a Dallas trash dumpster. These stories have a place not only in the authors' worlds, but in ours, and their stories impinge upon us readers as concretely as the nightly news. We respond because we recognize ourselves.

As the collection progresses, however, essays become increasingly personal. Authors start omitting details like dates, geographical addresses, and sometimes even names. The language becomes transient, narratives grow non-linear, and the essays come to resemble poetry for our aggressively non-poetic age. By inviting us into their lives, rather than visiting ours, the authors make themselves vulnerable, and we find ourselves wanting to trust them.

I've used prior editions of this series as Freshman Comp texts, and would cheerfully use this edition too. Strayed's selections don't merely showcase diverse, challenging topics--from cancer and postpartum depression and grief, to love and family and music. She also chooses authors who convey their topics well, with professional attention to well-chosen words and phrases that convey beyond their literal meaning. I can pay no higher compliment than to say this collection makes me want to try something new as a writer.

Unfortunately, as more states move to adopt Common Core educational standards, many parents don't realize the standards explicitly discourage personal writing. Though Common Core explicitly encourages nonfiction reading, that doesn't include essays like those in this collection. David Coleman, who co-wrote Common Core, has said: "As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don't give a [bleep] about what you feel or what you think."

Yet this series' continued success, and the caliber of writing in this collection, prove the lie in that statement. Personal writing matters because humans are empathetic beings; by sharing others' thoughts and feelings, we think and feel more deeply ourselves. As the dwindling magazine industry dries up venues for innovative, risk-taking essays, philistines like David Coleman threaten to overtake our discourse. Editors like Cheryl Strayed stand fast against them.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good writing - always a pleasure, October 23, 2013
This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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As other reviewers noted, these essays were exceptionally well written They met the criteria for good essays - lots of detail, strong written and personal transformation. Like several other reviewers, I especially liked Walter Kirn's essay, Confessions of an ex-Mormon. I also liked the "Totalitarian Hotel" essay.

In fact, I can't say I really disliked any particular essay. What made this book difficult to review was the steady progression of introspective inner-directed essays. After awhile these essays felt pretty intense and I began to feel some empathy for psychotherapists who have to listen to these stories all day. Reading one at a time is much easier, but it seems that this personal narrative has become popular in just about every venue, including the top newspapers of the United States.

Surely there are other forms of essay besides the autobiographical. Previous collections included editorial and scientific essays, which would have been a nice relief. But since it's up to the year's editor, it's hard to argue.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great entry to the series, October 12, 2013
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This review is from: The Best American Essays 2013 (Paperback)
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I've read each issue of The Best American Essays for the past ten years or so. Every year has had at least a few essays that wowed me, though almost every essay is a worthwhile read. The only way I know to review this year's BAE is to compare it to the other years. This year had three essays that wowed me (a slightly below average number), and one essay that I thought was unremarkable. All the remaining essays were worthwhile reads - interesting, well-written, and engaging.

For the record, the three essays I loved were "Night" by Alice Munro, "Pigeons" by Eileen Pollack, and "Letter from Majorca" by J. D. Daniels. My favorites among the rest: "Highway of Lost Girls"; "Triage"; "The Exhibit Will Be So Marked"; "His Last Game"; "When They Let Them Bleed."

A great book series. Always worthwhile.
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The Best American Essays 2013
The Best American Essays 2013 by Robert Atwan (Paperback - October 8, 2013)
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