- Series: Best American
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st edition (October 11, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0618705295
- ISBN-13: 978-0618705290
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,298,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Best American Essays 2006 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Veteran essayists (Joseph Epstein, Oliver Sacks, Susan Orlean) share space with accomplished newcomers (Michele Morano, Laurie Abraham, Poe Ballantine) in this rich and thoughtful collection. Ethnic variety is one strain: Emily Bernard writes about being a black teacher in a white class; Ken Chen deciphers the cultural mix of Hong Kong. Peter Selgin's account of the maiming of his hand and Robert Polito's search for his unknown grandmother convey the poignancy of loss, and Scott Turow regrets never having met Saul Bellow. But the dominant theme is death. Toi Derricotte, Kim Dana Kupperman and David Rieff write about the deaths of their mothers (Rieff's mother was Susan Sontag). Sam Pickering's elegiac essay about putting his dog to sleep is also a lament on lost youth and coming age; Adam Gopnik wittily demonstrates how the death of a goldfish provides a watershed moment for his family. The most affecting piece is an excerpt from Marjorie Williams's elegant, unsparing The Woman at the Washington Zoo, in which she describes the progress of the cancer that was to kill her in 2005. Eugene Goodheart explains this preoccupation best: "I think of [the personal essay] as the genre of the posthumous," he says. (Oct. 11)
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.
As always with this high-quality annual, readers are presented with not only a vivifying set of essays on diverse topics in splendidly varied voices but also fresh insights into the essay form, thanks to the ever-insightful series editor, Robert Atwan, and his guest editors. This time around, Atwan revisits Somerset Maugham's Razor's Edge, a novel that devilishly takes the form of a memoir, and then Lauren Slater chronicles the uproar aroused by her collection, Opening Skinner's Box (2004). Twenty clear and striking essays about sex, celebrities, illness, and death follow. Toi Derricotte remembers her mother, as does David Rieff, son of Susan Sontag. Robert Polito muses over lost family photographs, Scott Turow pays homage to the late Saul Bellow, and Eugene Goodheart ponders aging. Sound somber? Yes and no, given that assaying feelings affirms the life of the spirit, the power of the mind, the pleasures of expression, and the hope of being heard and understood. As Slater aimed for, there are intelligence, art, and kindness here, and those are great gifts. 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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The format of The Best American series is to have a guest editor (in this case Lauren Slater, author of "Prozac Diary") make the final choice for the pieces included in each volume. The guest editor thus has considerable power to shape the volume to their liking. A few guest editors (I've read this series for years) appear to aspire to uphold the series claim to be a collection of the best of that year's writing. More often, as is the case with Slater's selections here, the guest editor appears to put their strong personal stamp on the volume, selecting works that appeal to the guest editor's particular biases, which might be biases of subject matter, theme, tone, or (less often, thankfully) politics.
The essays Slater selected are nearly all well-written, powerful, and moving. However, they are almost entirely dark in tone, and their subject matter often focuses on personal tragedies that have happened to the authors. Here are some opening sentences (or near opening sentences) to provide a flavor of what the reader of this volume must consume: "Outside of a psychotic who attacked me a few months ago...", "I don't seem to suffer the pains of anguish that many women whose mothers have died feel...", "When our five-year-old daughter Olivia's goldfish, Blueie, died the other week...", "I woke to a downpour the March morning in 1989 when I had to identify my mother's body at the New York City morgue...", "It was the beginning of what would turn out to be a very bad day...", "This summer I had to put my dog George to sleep...", "Even during the last nine months of her life...", "In 1989, however, Pat's husband died suddenly of a heart attack...", "The dog that mauled me...", "In the elevator going down from the seventeenth floor, everyone is crying...", "The beast first showed its face benignly...".
I almost gave this volume five stars for the quality of the essays, but I decided to deduct a star due to the dark tone of nearly all the selections. What other essays, more positive in tone and outlook, were available to Slater but didn't make it into this volume?
The guest editor gig to the Best American series seems like a pretty cushy one. The series editor selects about a hundred essays from the hundreds that are submitted throughout the past year and the guest editor picks twenty five of those and maybe slips in one or two favorites of his or her own. You really can't go wrong no matter which twenty-five you pick. And until now, I didn't really think it was possible to put your own stamp on a collection as guest editor.
Lauren Slater has truly accomplished that. Although I recognized Slater's name from having read her controversial and slightly creepy book of a few years ago, Opening Skinner's Box, I jumped into the essays without expecting much different form the usual batch of high quality writing. Since the essays are arranged in alphabetical order by author's name, the book starts off with a death-free article about the Kinsey Institute. It's followed by a sad account of an addict, an edgy discussion of racial epithets, and a story of grief. A typically cantankerous tirade about celebrity by Joseph Epstein provides a break in the slide toward depression. Maudlin thoughts on aging and dying follow, then Adam Gopnik's tale of the death of his daughter's beloved pet. A mother's death, a dysfunctional relationship in Spain, then a bit more relief from Susan Orlean. Somewhat refreshed, we dive back in to find a dying dog, a family's shame, Susan Sontag's son on his mother's final illness, and Oliver Sacks with a relatively upbeat essay of a woman who loses her speech in a stroke-like attack and over several years with the best medical care and devoted attention of her two grown daughters, manages to learn to communicate again.
Next an understandably bitter account of spending decades regaining the use of a hand after an encounter with a vicious dog, and then the best essay in the book. Alan Shapiro's Why Write is thoughtful, humorous, and made me think about writing in a whole new light. Instead of treating writing as a form of communication (which it certainly can be), he thinks of it more as singing or as a sport, something you do for yourself, and may also be pleasing to others, but only incidentally.
The collection winds down with a piece on a grief support group, an interesting account of Scott Turow's relationship with Saul Bellow, and finally the sad story by Marjorie Williams of her fatal cancer.
Don't be fooled by the cheerful green cover of this year's collection. It's a dark and disturbing collection.
Not so with Lauren Slater's edition of the Best American Essays. Here we get 8 or 9 articles about dead or dying parents as well as some lighter fare in the 3 essays about dead, dying, or lost pets.
I have nothing against death as a subject, but to provide such a single themed volume is not just depressing, it's completely opposed to the spirit and brand of the "Best American" series. Would an editor of the "Best American Travel Writing" get away with publishing 20 essays on Portugal? Or an editor of the "Best American Sports Writing" publishing 20 essays about the Yankees? It's just not a good representation of the many great essays written in 2006.
I, for one, remember reading lots of great essays about stem cell research, war, the new wave of female university presidents, hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, the mid-term elections, and global warming, to name a few. Where are those topics? Where are any topics other than death?
I advise all loyal readers of this and other "Best of" editions to check the TOC carefully before you buy again.