Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyEdited by Sontag ( The Volcano Lover ), this collection amply demonstrates the diversity of subject matter that stimulates contemporary essayists. Adam Gopnik traces John James Audubon's self-transformation from French emigre dilettante to American woodsman; John Updike probes the persistence of the Mickey Mouse icon; E. L. Doctorow tries to fathom the mysteries of songs, which ``have the capacity to represent in their lyrics and lines of melody wars and other disasters, moral process, the fruits of experience, and, like prayers, the consolations beyond loss''; Stanley Elkin contends that Hamlet and the Mona Lisa are overrated masterpieces; and John Guillory discusses the difference between the literary canon and the classroom syllabus. This collection is uneven. Low points include Patricia Storace's critique of a lackluster biography of the mediocre, probably racist Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and Jamaica Kincaid's shriek against everything English. Highlights include Joan Didion's dissection of the Central Park jogger rape case's hold on the New York psyche, and David Rieff's critique of the recovery movement (although the fact that he is Sontag's son should have on principle kept him out of this ``best'' collection). (Nov.)
Library JournalAs with previous volumes of this series, one could debate whether these 20 essays are indeed the year's best. Editor Sontag introduces the essay as ``a display of intelligence'' that offers ``precision and clarity of argument and transparency of style.'' However, many of the essays here merely express opinion in convoluted form. Among the more interesting and readable pieces are William Gass's musings on the meaning of exile and Jamaica Kincaid's account, ``On Seeing England for the First Time.'' Primarily of interest to academic libraries, most of which already have access through the periodicals from which these were drawn.-- Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
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