"This collection is satisfying in its unexpected diversity and tasty juxtapositions . . . Every reader will come away delighted and enlightened." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A wide variety of quality writing, both reflective and reported." -- Kirkus Reviews
This selection of the year's outstanding essays of literary achievement at first appears to be a book for those J.D. Salinger called "lifetime English major[s]." Entries such as "The Murder of Leo Tolstoy" by Elif Batuman, "Lunching on Olympus" by Steven L. Isenberg, and "A Fine Rage" by James Woods all focus on the essayist's reaction to meeting or reading the works of famous authors such as George Orwell and Philip Larkin. After digging further into the collection of 21 entries, however, readers will discover gems that quickly move the book beyond the realm of an English class curriculum. "The Elegant Eyeball" by John Gamel explains a doctor's duty when healing has failed to accompany patients on the "lonely road to disability and death." Matt Labash's "A Rake of Progress" takes readers through several days in the Washington, DC, life of Marion Barry, the former mayor and current council member, who blames other people for his drug and tax problems. "The Dead Book" by Jane Churchon details the respect and dignity required of a nursing supervisor asked to pronounce "Mrs. Jones" dead. VERDICT This new contribution to a series published annually since 1986 is a required library acquisition and perfect for writers seeking a concentrated look at contemporary essay writing.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
Plenty of good reading in this 25th annual anthology, though it extends the definition of "essay" past the point of category.
In the foreword, series editor Robert Atwan addresses the technological changes that have, or haven't, affected the essay: "What are blogs but today's version of essays in disguise?" This volume's editor, Vanity Fair contributor Hitchens (Hitch-22, 2010, etc.), offers an economic consideration that the year "was not a healthy one for the sorts of magazines that take the risk of publishing the essay form." (The magazines represented in this installment include mostly the usual suspects, like the New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books, with only one real surprise: the Alaska Quarterly Review.) But what is that essay form? One of the pieces, "A Rake's Progress" by Matt Labash, is a fairly standard—and very good—feature profile of former Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry. Another, "Speaking in Tongues" by Zadie Smith, is a reprint of a lecture she delivered at the New York Public Library. James Wood's concluding "A Fine Range" is an extended book review of a couple of recent collections of George Orwell's essays. Among the pieces that would be more conventionally classified as essays are illuminating appreciations of John Updike (by Ian McEwan) and William F. Buckley (by Garry Wills). Jane Kramer's "Me, Myself, and I," about reading Montaigne, cuts to the heart of the essay and the essence of coming to terms with life and death through writing, while Brian Doyle's short, sharp "Irreconcilable Dissonance" uses divorce to make provocative comments on marriage. Other notable contributors include David Sedaris, Steven Pinker, Walter Isaacson and Phillip Lopate.
A wide variety of quality writing, both reflective and reported.