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The Best American Essays 2009 Paperback – Bargain Price, October 8, 2009

3.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Book Description

Previous ISBN 9780618983223
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Mary Oliver is one of the most celebrated and best-selling poets in America. Her books include Red Bird; Our World; Thirst; Blue Iris; New and Selected Poems, Volume One; and New and Selected Poems, Volume Two. She has also published five books of prose, including Rules for the Dance and, most recently, Long Life. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

ROBERT ATWAN has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide.

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Product Details

  • Series: Best American
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Original edition (October 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618982728
  • ASIN: B004KAB3YS
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,939,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Guest editor Mary Oliver has put her indelible stamp upon this year's volume of The Best American Essays. It is so noticeable that it can be seen simply by shelving the book next to previous year's volumes, whose bindings all are roughly twice as thick. As a poet, Mary Oliver obviously prefers short pieces of prose in which the author has carefully chosen each word for maximum impact. Often very short essays are overlooked by this series, but this year's volume contains several of them, and few long works.

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I strongly disagree with the previous reviews about this book. The essays by Wendell Berry, Brian Doyle, David Duncan, Kathryn Miles and Barry Lopez are stellar as are many of the others. Oliver privileged, it seems, writing with a strong sense of place, especially the natural world, and those not used to this kind of writing may not like it. I love it. A great collection with a wonderful selection of traditional and innovative essays, one of which (the Duncan essay) turns into a poem at the end. The Doyle essay on writing nature essays should be required reading for anyone interested in writing essays of any type.
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Format: Paperback
I vacillated between two and three stars for this review, finally deciding on three stars, if only because it does represent an improvement over last year's dismal effort. As other reviewers have noted, the essays don't manage to live up to the introduction by this year's guest editor. I had two specific criticisms;

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.
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This is a collection of magazine articles. Nature writing is included but nothing from the medical or psychological journals or about finance or economics.
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,
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