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The Best American Essays 2014 Paperback – October 7, 2014
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Mariner paperback, 2013, previous ISBN 978-0-544-10388-7 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Back Cover
The Best American Series
In our age of trigger warnings and jeopardized free expression, The Best American Essays 2014 does not shy away from shocking extremes, ambiguities, or dualities. As guest editor John Jeremiah Sullivan notes, the essay assumes many two-sided forms, and these diverse pieces capture all the conceptions of what an essay can be: the loose and the strict, the flourish and the finished, the try and the trial. His choices embrace the high and the low, the memoirist s confession and the journalist s reportage, and all the gray area in between. From a hotel in Mongolia to a Clockwork Orange like Baltimore, from a Rome emergency room to Burning Man, these diverse pieces surprise and entertain, inform and titillate.
The Best American Essays 2014 includes Kristin Dombek, Dave Eggers, Leslie Jamison, Ariel Levy, Yiyun Li, Barry Lopez, Zadie Smith, Wells Tower, James Wood, and others.
[INSERT AUTHOR PHOTO] John Jeremiah Sullivan, editor, is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the southern editor of the Paris Review. He s been the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, two National Magazine Awards, a Pushcart Prize, an M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, and a fellowship at the New York Public Library s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He is the author of Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter s Son and Pulphead: Essays.
Robert Atwan, the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986, has published on a wide variety of subjects, from American advertising and early photography to ancient divination and Shakespeare. His criticism, essays, humor, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous periodicals nationwide.
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Top Customer Reviews
Other gems include
Timothy Beads' "A Matter of Life and Death," a meditation on marriage and mortality;
Wendy Brenner's "Strange Beads," which juxtaposes death, cancer and the escape into consumerism;
Emily Fox Gordon's "At Sixty-Five," a mordant, witty, wise self-examination of "old age";
Mary Gordon's "On Enmity," which shows the thorny, knotty, paradoxes informing the idea of having enemies;
Yiyun Li's "Dear Friend, From My Life I Write To Your Life," which chronicles the depression of a Chinese immigrant who falls in love with America and its glamour and promise of reinvention on one hand but finds her new country's unrealistic expectations a poison on the other;
James Wood's "Becoming Them," about James Wood, in spite of himself, becoming like his parents. He makes his personal story universal by showing how most of us go down the same trajectory.
There are more than enough literary gems for me to give this year's anthology the highest recommendation.
A few thoughts on the essays.
The pieces are in alphabetical order based on the author's last name. Coincidentally, this means that the two essays on sexual abuse, "Silver of Sky," by Barry Lopez and "Someone Else," by Chris Offutt are back to back (followed by an essay on all things, joy, by Zadie Smith). Both give honest accounts of being assaulted as youths, examine why they kept silent at the time, and describe how it has affected them as adults. Both also wonder why their parents did not notice anything out of the ordinary at the time.
Parental negligence is also a major theme of "Little X," by Elizabeth Tallent, an account of her injuring her arm as a child while her family was on vacation. Rather than seek medical help immediately, her parents chose to simply leave the hotel early. Allowed to sit in the "wayfarback" part of their station wagon, Tallent spends the time crafting a makeshift sling.
Dealing with growing older is another theme of several essays. "The Old Man at Burning Man," by Wells Tower describes a visit there with several friends and his dad, who is undergoing cancer treatment. Surprisingly, it's the father who gets into the spirit of the festival, unfazed by the blatant sexuality of the participants, while the son finds himself acting like a nagging parent. "Becoming Them" by James Woods is about how the author unconsciously finds himself adopting many of the habits of his father as he ages. "At Sixty Five," by Emily Fox Gordon examines how certain personality traits have undergone a change, including her approach to health care.
Several pieces are odes to places, including "Letter from Williamsburg," by Kristen Dombek; "Letter from Greenwich Village," by Vivian Gornick, and "Slickheads" (a journey through Baltimore as a youth) by Lawrence Jackson. Both "Thanksgiving in Mongolia," by Ariel Levy, and "The Final Day in Rome," by John H. Culver discuss a devastating personal event that occurred far from home.
Overall, a very thought-provoking collection. And though the editor took this lightly, some of the pieces may well have "triggers." But it shouldn't keep you from taking a look at this book.
The Best American collections have always been a way to think about recent writings. Even if I had already read the particular contents, it was always interesting to see them in context of the other writing of that year. I tend to read the same few journals and not look at lesser known. And in fact, that is often the problem I have with these collections, that they seem to come from the same few magazines. Yes, GQ, New Yorker, Paris Review, and all those that glitter, are the source of many happy hours of reading, but there is a whole larger world of writing and reading.
Sometimes, you learn as much about the editor of the collections, although in this case, I was not familiar with him at all. The guest editors of this particular series, The Best American Essays, have been first rate though, so he is definitely worth looking for.