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The Best American Essays 2009 Paperback – Bargain Price, October 8, 2009
The Amazon Book Review
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The other obvious imprint of Mary Oliver's is a preponderance of essays about either essays in specific or the act of writing in general. Some readers looking for a breadth of human experience in a volume of essays may consider this to be a bit too much authorial navel gazing. One such essay, Chris Arthur's "(En)trance", which takes as its titular subject the pillars on his mother's family farm estate, I found to be somewhat tedious and too self-centered, but after plowing through that one (it happens to be the first selection in the volume), many gems await the reader, including:
-- John Updike's "The Writer in Winter", one of his last published pieces, which accurately describes the trajectory and different challenges facing a writer over the course of his career and fame, written in perfectly erudite Updike style.
-- Brian Doyle's "The Greatest Nature Essay Ever", which truly is; no need to say more.
-- John Berger's "Portrait of a Masked Man", a fawning, highly sympathetic portrait of a Mexican Zapatista revolutionary, which unabashedly uses the power of the written word to shape and sway public opinion.Read more ›
The first seems to be a fault that is endemic to this particular collection - there is far too much navel-gazing going on in these essays. I didn't find
*the travails of Michael Lewis living in a mansion beyond his means,
*a ten-page account of Garret Lewis's ongoing fight with deer in his backyard,
*10 pages about the personal health and fainting history of someone called James Marcus,
(each of the above delivered in prose that is at best adequate, and with no apparent irony)
anywhere near as fascinating as the authors of the respective pieces apparently did. I doubt that most Amazon readers will have a different reaction - these pieces smacked of solipsistic self-indulgence from start to finish.
My second criticism is probably more a reflection of my personal taste, and may not be shared by other readers. But I felt that Mary Oliver's background as a poet shone through, with the result that many of the pieces had a kind of "writerly" quality that might appeal to other writers, but was a bit precious for a general reader like me. This was particularly true of pieces like Chris Arthur's "(En)trance", Patricia Hampl's "The Dark Art of Description", Brian Doyle's "The Greatest nature Essay Ever", Cynthia Ozick's "Ghost writers", John Updike's "The Writer in Winter", any of which might be of interest to someone attending a writer's workshop, but none of which seemed to me to hold much interest for a general reader.Read more ›
I sympathize with the feeling that some of these pieces of writing are so good that they should not be doomed to be ephemeral. How well do these jewels shine when taken out of their settings and jumbled in with the rest of the best?
One problem with enshrining them in a book is the lack of the feedback that we would get from letter-writers in a magazine. This is especially important in controversial contemporary issues where there may be another side to the story. John Berger's story about the Zapatistas in Mexico was in this category. I'm sure that in a magazine or newspaper there would have been plenty of eager correspondents wanting to put in five cents worth. I found myself wanting to point out that James Marcus misses one of the most interesting psychological points about fainting and phobias. Horror at blood and guts results in slowing of the pulse, whereas for the animal phobic the sight of a snake or a spider causes the pulse to quicken.
Some pieces would have fitted better in the context of book. Gregory Orr's account of freedom riding would have gone well into a book about the African-American revolution of the sixties, where other accounts and background would have put it into focus.
Trying to read this cover to cover is like eating all the items in a buffet full of good food. We cannot immortalize every piece of good writing. Some is destined to be transient and its authors as forgotten as an Amazon reviewer,
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Bought for a discussion group. We were all older and didn't think these were nearly as good a essays written in 18th and 19th centuries.Published 17 months ago by Margaret A. Wood
They have some great stories in this book, short and sweet....I like this book a lot it's great for learning Essays. ;) I'm happy with this book..Published on September 28, 2012 by Jewels
While I could wish for more diversity of topics in this collection (how many essays can I read about being a writer?), I do feel richer in my thoughts for having read it. Read morePublished on August 5, 2010 by Kevin L. Nenstiel
As with almost any anthology, there will be essays in this book people will like, and essays they won't, and everyone's reaction will be different. Read morePublished on May 21, 2010 by Anthony R. Cardno
The Mansion: A Subprime Parable - Michael Lewis. Humorous
And Such small Deer - Its mosaic format lends it liberty to bundle different time myths... Read more
This collection does not come up to what we might expect from the title "Best Essays". The essays themselves are slight in impact and are also, most usually, wordy. Read morePublished on February 22, 2010 by Sylvia Starr
This year's essay collection did not live up to the excellent introduction written by editor Mary Oliver. Read morePublished on October 23, 2009 by Valerie Lynn