The Best American Essays 1996

The Best American Essays 1996

by Geoffrey C. Ward
     
 

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The Best American Essays 1996 celebrates the acclaimed anthology's tenth year with a lively, wide-ranging volume that takes the essay into diverse worlds far beyond the personal. The territories these essays explore are sometimes astonishing, amusing, or disturbing. Ian Frazier takes the F train to Brooklyn, with its continuous parade of urban surprises; Amitav Ghosh

Overview

The Best American Essays 1996 celebrates the acclaimed anthology's tenth year with a lively, wide-ranging volume that takes the essay into diverse worlds far beyond the personal. The territories these essays explore are sometimes astonishing, amusing, or disturbing. Ian Frazier takes the F train to Brooklyn, with its continuous parade of urban surprises; Amitav Ghosh visits New Delhi during a moment of social upheaval; and Chang-Rae Lee welcomes us into his family kitchen, where he prepares Korean meals for his dying mother. While Gerald Early analyzes the Afrocentric dream of a world without whites, Jonathan Raban hears " the last call of the wild" on the Pacific coast, and Nicholson Baker peruses an upscale world in which books are part of the furniture. Guest editor Geoffrey C. Ward has assembled an outstanding group of essays with a slightly different twist - one that looks outside instead of in.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the sort of collection series editor Robert Atwan undoubtedly had in mind when he started this series 10 years ago: accessible and informative essays that cover everything from history to current events, from nature to pop culture. James Fenton writes that Michelangelo was so paranoid about competition that he "surrounded himself deliberately with no-hopers"; Adam Gopnik reveals that Queen Victoria's son Leopold wanted to marry the girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland; Julie Baumgold notes that Elvis Presley's colon was "two feet too long, and twisted"; and, according to Gordon Grice, a black widow's web is designed to let its creator discern, at a distance, the difference "between a raindrop or leaf and viable prey." Unlike past editions, some themes echo in Ward's choices: Joan Acocella's piece on Willa Cather and Gerald Early's on Afrocentrism both warn of the danger of manipulating facts to suit an agenda, while William Cronon and Jonathan Raban muse on the yuppification of nature. As Cronon puts it, "celebrating wilderness has been an activity mainly for well-to-do city folks" who never "had to work the land" for a living. Meanwhile Raban leaves the comfortable city to freeze his fingers on a winter fly-fishing expedition. The beauty of this collection is that while each essay was created independently, together they create a picture of what's relevant in North America as the 20th century comes to a close. As a collection, they more than live up to the superlative in the title. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Thanks to the wide-ranging interests of guest editor Ward, a columnist for American Heritage and the author of histories (e.g., The West, LJ 8/96), there are some memorable moments in this tenth edition of Robert Atwan's best essays series. James Alan McPherson's "Crabcakes," a stunning transcendental meditation on returning to the author's former home in Baltimore on the death of his tenant, is one essay (originally published in Doubletake) that most readers will not have seen before. Gordon Grice's "Black Widow" (High Plains Literary Review) is a chilling excursus on the author's fascination with the spider, while Julie Baumgold's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Elvis" (Esquire) tenderly puts to rest America's adulation of the rocker. Gerald Early's "Understanding Afrocentrism" (Civilization) and Darryl Pinckney's "Slouching Toward Washington" (New York Review of Books) take on some hard-hitting issues in the African American community. Numerous essays from the New Yorker are represented, notably Nicholson Baker's much-discussed "Books as Furniture." Essential for literature collections.Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
For this anthology's tenth anniversary, former American Heritage editor Ward (The West, p. 1228, etc.) has selected pieces that, in the words of series editor Robert Atwan, emphasize the essay genre's "outward reach to a world far larger than the Self."

In contrast to some past editions in this series, this volume largely dispenses with self-fixation. Some of the essayists, in fact, are more like eyewitnesses to history. Amitav Ghosh, for instance, recalls India's terrifying anti-Sikh violence after the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi; and Darryl Pickney mocks "the numerology and self-election of Louis Farrakhan" that he believes marred the Million Man March. Intensely personal essays are represented by Edward Hoagland and Joseph Epstein, writing about, respectively, the restored world of sight following an eye operation, and "the art of the nap." For nature buffs, environmental historian William Cronon explains how a preoccupation with wilderness has diverted attention from more urgent ecological dilemmas; Mary Oliver examines the owl; and Gordon Grice refutes the idea of a god-designed Nature in his chilling rumination on the black widow spider. Two musical superstars are treated as cultural touchstones: Michael Jackson (Stanley Crouch, stiletto-sharp) and Elvis (Julie Baumgold, windy). Finally, there are personal histories: Jane Brox on the 1918 flu epidemic as experienced by her father, Chang-Rae Lee on his deceased Korean mother, and William Styron on being confined to a Marine Corps "clap shack" for syphilis. Although Ward has cast his net wide, with pieces from obscure as well as well-known periodicals, most of his catch comes from the same spot: the New Yorker, with 8 of the 22 pieces (though this would be a poorer collection without Adam Gopnik's dissection of Lewis Carroll's attraction to young girls and Joan Acocella's discussion of Willa Cather as a victim of literary trends).

A welcome mixture of veteran and relatively new writers in an installment that maintains this series' level of high quality.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780395717561
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
11/06/1996
Series:
Best American Essays Series
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.55(w) x 8.26(h) x 1.02(d)

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Meet the Author

Since the inception of The Best American Essays in 1986 as a trade book title, Robert Atwan has been series editor. He has published reviews and essays in a range of periodicals and edited a number of other literature anthologies. Atwan most recently edited two collections of poetry with a Biblical theme, Chapters into Verse by Oxford University Press and Divine Inspiration by Oxford University Press.

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