- Series: Best American Essays
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 10th 1996 ed. edition (November 6, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0395717566
- ISBN-13: 978-0395717561
- Package Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,804,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Best American Essays 1996 Paperback – November 6, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
This is the sort of collection series editor Robert Atwan undoubtedly had in mind when he started this series 10 years ago: accessible and informative essays that cover everything from history to current events, from nature to pop culture. James Fenton writes that Michelangelo was so paranoid about competition that he "surrounded himself deliberately with no-hopers"; Adam Gopnik reveals that Queen Victoria's son Leopold wanted to marry the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland; Julie Baumgold notes that Elvis Presley's colon was "two feet too long, and twisted"; and, according to Gordon Grice, a black widow's web is designed to let its creator discern, at a distance, the difference "between a raindrop or leaf and viable prey." Unlike past editions, some themes echo in Ward's choices: Joan Acocella's piece on Willa Cather and Gerald Early's on Afrocentrism both warn of the danger of manipulating facts to suit an agenda, while William Cronon and Jonathan Raban muse on the yuppification of nature. As Cronon puts it, "celebrating wilderness has been an activity mainly for well-to-do city folks" who never "had to work the land" for a living. Meanwhile Raban leaves the comfortable city to freeze his fingers on a winter fly-fishing expedition. The beauty of this collection is that while each essay was created independently, together they create a picture of what's relevant in North America as the 20th century comes to a close. As a collection, they more than live up to the superlative in the title.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Thanks to the wide-ranging interests of guest editor Ward, a columnist for American Heritage and the author of histories (e.g., The West, LJ 8/96), there are some memorable moments in this tenth edition of Robert Atwan's best essays series. James Alan McPherson's "Crabcakes," a stunning transcendental meditation on returning to the author's former home in Baltimore on the death of his tenant, is one essay (originally published in Doubletake) that most readers will not have seen before. Gordon Grice's "Black Widow" (High Plains Literary Review) is a chilling excursus on the author's fascination with the spider, while Julie Baumgold's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Elvis" (Esquire) tenderly puts to rest America's adulation of the rocker. Gerald Early's "Understanding Afrocentrism" (Civilization) and Darryl Pinckney's "Slouching Toward Washington" (New York Review of Books) take on some hard-hitting issues in the African American community. Numerous essays from the New Yorker are represented, notably Nicholson Baker's much-discussed "Books as Furniture." Essential for literature collections.?Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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I took What Henry James Knew and Other Essays on Writers, which is largely about chaps and chapesses rather than books, to mean that the companion volume would be about writING, and it is, but more the process than the product; the first half is mainly about Ozick herself (the subject, as they say, that we all know best), anglophilia and all, bless her! Less mannered, more relaxed ('the years spent themselves extravagantly'; of Edna St Vincent Millay she remarks tartly that her name is 'her best, perhaps her only, poem'), it all falls into place; this is a revelation (although partial to that winsome word 'comely', this person is impossible; this is a person not only incapable of sitting at a breakfast table without the hunger for print but incapable of pretending otherwise to overnight guests) and a joy. Has she written better?
From the title essay (midpoint) on it's pure lit crit, as Ozick hunkers down in defence of Tradition. Maybe another time I'll feel like making the case for experiment, but it's pretty clear-cut in the case of poetry or the visual arts, so why ringfence prose? A clue is Ozick's penchant for the purse-lipped 'misprision' - simply 'error', given a theological spin. The core of this second half is Ozick's passionate engagement with Harold Bloom, who kind of patented the term. 'The jewelled diversity of Bloom's.. glossary is the consequence of an intoxication with the beauty and persuasiveness of the bewitchment it serves.' It is a question who is intoxicating and bewitching whom, but Ozick undoubtedly, even eagerly, sees herself among the 'disconsolate latecomers, ..envious and frustrated' and we love her for it. Her piece on Ruth (at last we get personal again) shows us how close textual exegesis can get to sermon, as does the concluding piece (on metaphor). Somewhere she talks of authors ('mainly guileless' - Kafka, Schulz) eating themselves; I finished this wanting not more of the culture wars nor of her own literary creations, but wishing Cynthia Ozick had saved a little more of herself for me
Great cover, but is Steven Lopez, who's credited with the photo, responsible for the original painting - and if not, who is? These guys who make books attractive enough to want to buy really are the bottom of the food chain. Neither gallery Louis K Meisel nor designer Pascale Hutton are any help on line. Sort it out, Random House; my comment box is vacant
CAVEAT, you guys! I think this consists of essays from Art and Ardor and Metaphor and Memory repackaged primarily, I suppose, for the British market, but the volume is infernally coy on this point (there may be NEW STUFF!) whereas 'companion volume' What Henry James Knew was I think all new in book form; confusing
Edward Hoagland's reflects on his own relation to Biblical religion after his recovery from two years of blindness. He has a deep appreciation of the Biblical text, especially of Job. His essay is moving though he shows an imperfect understanding of normative Judaism especially in regard to its conception of Justice and Mercy.
William Styron tells of a misdiagnosis he suffered from while a Marine, and gives insight into the sexual norms and expectations of another time.
Julie Baumgold takes a look at the Elvis Myth and also at Elvis own tragic end.
One of my favorite essay writers Joseph Epstein writes of the roles naps have played in his life, and that of many other noted masters of midday refreshment. He in the course of this provides an insightful look into the subject of 'sleeping'.
On the basis of these essays alone I would say that this is a first- rate volume.