Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyReaders expecting Kincaid's choices for best American essays to reflect her own fiction style-i.e., taut and direct-are bound to be disappointed. There are some accessible pieces-Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s on African American hair and Maxine Kumin's on gardening stand out as the kind of engaging and illuminating essays that readers have come to expect from this annual collection. But these pieces-as well as memoirs by Grace Paley, John Edgar Wideman and Tobias Wolff-are overwhelmed by pedantic ramblings that uneasily straddle the line between intellectual and pretentious. Consider this: Josephine Foo's title, ``Endou'' had to be footnoted (it means ``endow'')-and the content's not much more accessible or Elaine Scarry's ``Counting At Dusk (Why Poetry Matters When the Century Ends)'' which includes convoluted prose like this: ``Against this impossibility of experiential sequence is the poet's own act of lifting forward, making sensuously available, the phenomenon of sequence.'' Perhaps Kincaid appreciates this sort of writing. But this series isn't supposed to be a forum for abstruse musings-that's what academic specialty journals are for. (Nov.)
Library JournalGuest editor Kincaid delivers a satisfying if wonderless selection in this year's Best. From Joseph Brodsky's weighty "Homage to Marcus Aurelius," which opens the collection, to Elaine Scarry's academic "Counting at Dusk (Why Poetry Matters When the Century Ends)," Kincaid has brought out the heavy guns. William H. Gass's "The Art of Self," a long-winded, solipsistic take on biography, is juxtaposed with Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s humorous childhood depiction of "good" and "bad" black hair in "In the Kitchen." Edward Hoagland offers bittersweet remembrances of cheating on his wife in "Strange Perfume" and Cynthia Ozick of her six days without pen or paper in Greenwich Village's Women's House of Detention. Maxine Kumin's "Jicama, Without Expectation," a diary of the growing season from her farm, punctuates the collection like a sudden, refreshing shower. The essays have appeared in the New Yorker, Artes, Harper's, the Threepenny Review, and others. For literature collections.Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
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