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From Barnes & NobleBookseller Reviews
These essays educate us, amuse us, startle us with their immediacy. Who among us can read Henry Adam's "A Law of Acceleration," penned in 1904, and not think of our mind-zapping digital age? Who could resist the first sentence of Zora Neale Hurston's piece:I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief." And which of you could disagree with the unrepeatable wisdom of Gertrude Stein's "The tradition has always been that you may more or less describe the things that happen nowadays everybody all day long knows what is happening and so what is happening is not really interesting."
The essays that Joyce Carol Oates has selected linger with us, not because their authors (from Mark Twain to Martin Luther King), retain their fame, but because each piece is a talisman, irreducible and well-carved. James Age's prose-poems "Knoxville, Summer of 1915" appeals to us today just as it inspired composer Samuel Barber decades ago, and two thirds of a century have only enhanced the thrall of the languorous rhythms of Edmund Wilson's "The Old Stone House." H.L. Mencken's article on the 1925 Scopes trial shames this week's pale convention prose with its freshness, and T.S. Eliot's 1919 "Tradition and The Individual Talent" still has something to teach us.