This singular collection is nothing less than a political, spiritual, and intensely personal record of America's tumultuous modern age by our foremost critics, commentators, activists, and artists. In her introduction to this volume, Joyce Carol Oates describes her project as "a search for the expression of personal experience within the historical, the individual talent within the tradition." Along with Robert Atwan, who has overseen the acclaimed BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS series since its inception in 1986, Oates has chosen a list of works that are both intimate and important, essays that take on subjects of profound and universal significance while retaining the power and spirit of a personal address.
This collection honors some of the twentieth century's best-known and best-loved writers on a breathtaking variety of topics. In a journalistic mode, Ernest Hemingway covers the bullfights in Pamplona, H. L. Mencken reacts to the Scopes trial, and Michael Herr dodges bullets in a helicopter over Vietnam. Nowhere is the intersection of our personal and political histories more meaningful than when the subject is America’s enduring legacy of racial strife, as shown by Richard Wright’s "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow," James Baldwin’s "Notes of a Native Son," Zora Neale Hurston’s "How It Feels to Be Colored Me," and others. The wonders and horrors of science, nature, and the cosmos are explored with eloquence, bravery, and beauty when Lewis Thomas writes about "The Lives of a Cell," Rachel Carson mulls "The Marginal World," and Stephen Jay Gould preaches evolution and baseball in "The Creation Myths of Cooperstown." Taken together, these essays fit, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, "into a kind of mobile mosaic suggest[ing] where we've come from, and who we are, and where we are going."
Mark Twain • W.E.B. Du Bois • Henry Adams • John Muir • William James • Randolph Bourne • John Jay Chapman • Jane Addams • T. S. Eliot • Ernest Hemingway • H. L. Mencken • Zora Neale Hurston • Edmund Wilson • Gertrude Stein • F. Scott Fitzgerald • James Thurber • Richard Wright • James Agee • Robert Frost • E. B. White • S. J. Perelman • Langston Hughes • Katherine Anne Porter • Mary McCarthy • Rachel Carson • James Baldwin • Loren Eiseley • Eudora Welty • Donald Hall • Martin Luther King, Jr. • Tom Wolfe • Susan Sontag • Vladimir Nabokov • N. Scott Momaday • Elizabeth Hardwick • Michael Herr • Maya Angelou • Lewis Thomas • John McPhee • William H. Gass • Maxine Hong Kingston • Alice Walker • Adrienne Rich • Joan Didion • Richard Rodriguez • Gretel Ehrlich • Annie Dillard • Cynthia Ozick • William Manchester • Edward Hoagland • Stephen Jay Gould • Gerald Early • John Updike • Joyce Carol Oates • Saul Bellow
Here you will find the finest essays “judiciously selected from countless publications” (Chicago Tribune), ranging from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Swink and Pinch. In his introduction to this year’s edition, Adam Gopnik finds that great essays have “text and inner text, personal story and larger point, the thing you’re supposed to be paying attention to and some otherHere you will find the finest essays “judiciously selected from countless publications” (Chicago Tribune), ranging from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Swink and Pinch. In his introduction to this year’s edition, Adam Gopnik finds that great essays have “text and inner text, personal story and larger point, the thing you’re supposed to be paying attention to and some other thing you’re really interested in.” David Sedaris’s quirky, hilarious account of a childhood spent yearning for a home where history was properly respected is also a poignant rumination on surviving the passage of time. In “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Jonathan Lethem ponders the intriguing phenomenon of cryptomnesia: a person believes herself to be creating something new but is really recalling similar, previously encountered work. Ariel Levy writes in “The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook” of her efforts to plan a party that accurately reflects her lifestyle (which she notes is “not black-tie!”) as she confronts head-on what it means to be married. And Lauren Slater is off to “Tripp Lake,” recounting the one summer she spent at camp—a summer of color wars, horseback riding, and the “wild sadness” that settled in her when she was away from home.
In the end, Gopnik believes that the only real ambition of an essayist is to be a master of our common life. This latest installment of The Best American Essays is full of writing that reveals, in Gopnik’s words, “the breath of things as they are.”...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 8th 2008 by Mariner Books