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The Best American Essays 2003

by Anne Fadiman (Editor), Robert Atwan (Editor)

Other authors: André Aciman (Contributor), Donald Antrim (Contributor), Robert Atwan (Foreword), Rachel Cohen (Contributor), Brian Doyle (Contributor)21 more, Joseph Epstein (Contributor), Anne Fadiman (Introduction), Marshall Jon Fisher (Contributor), Caitlin Flanagan (Contributor), Ian Frazier (Contributor), Atul Gawande (Contributor), Adam Gopnik (Contributor), Francine du Plessix Gray (Contributor), Edward Hoagland (Contributor), Myra Jehlen (Contributor), Jane Kramer (Contributor), Ben Metcalf (Contributor), Frederic Morton (Contributor), Michael Pollan (Contributor), Katha Pollitt (Contributor), Elaine Scarry (Contributor), Susan Sontag (Contributor), Francis Spufford (Contributor), Cheryl Strayed (Contributor), Judith Thurman (Contributor), John Edgar Wideman (Contributor)

Series: The Best American Essays (2003), Best American (2003)

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274168,702 (3.66)3
Since 1986, The Best American Essays has gathered the most interesting and provocative writing of the year, establishing a firm place as the leading annual of its kind. The volume is edited each year by an esteemed writer who brings a fresh eye to the selections. Previous editors have included Elizabeth Hardwick, Susan Sontag, Geoffrey C. Ward, Cynthia Ozick, and Stephen Jay Gould. This year’s volume is terrifically diverse, with subjects ranging from driving lessons to animal rights to citizenship in times of emergency.… (more)
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This collection started out bad, and then only got a little bit better. I gotta tell you. I think well-written essays are better than some of the best fiction. I truly love essays. They combine the best of writing with the best of ideas. And I constantly search out good ones. So why is it, so often, the Best American Essays collection is so … boring? (And good ones are out there. And they are being found by this same publisher. Just look at the Best Nonrequired Reading collection.)

Right off the bat, in the introduction, I hear how the guest editor snuggled up in bed with the essays to find the very best. Sorry, this is not the image of powerful essays that will move me, make me care, or cut me to the core. (Okay, this is unfair; we all have our ways of approaching reading, but this set a bad tone.) And then the first couple of essays were meandering pieces of life that led no where; the kind that makes you ask, “Why are they telling me this?” On the other hand, sometimes you know why and they wish you wouldn’t. In particular, Ben Metcalf’s “Wooden Dollar”. (Quick aside, I try not to dwell on/write about the things I don’t like. I don’t feel I should be ripping people apart in front of everyone. I will try to talk about what has worked for me; to spend time and your focus on things that I feel added value. So, with that in mind…) I really didn’t like this piece. There was too much “straight-in-your-face, let me remind you again what I’m trying to, not so subtly, tell you” in this essay. It was "Here’s my point, here’s my point again, oh, by the way, did you get my point?" But, it was well-written. I just don’t feel it belonged in the collection. Of course, it elicited a response from me, so maybe it did.

However, I’m glad I slogged through the first few essays, because there were good essays to follow. It picks up with “Home Alone” by Caitlin Flanigan, a review of two books on Martha Stewart. In this review, I felt I learned more about the Martha Stewart enterprise than I would have by reading the books – and it provided additional insight into what the Stewart phenomena may say about the country. And “The Learning Curve” by Atul Gawande almost makes the purchase of this book worthwhile. His description of the surgeon in training validates and invalidates not only our perceptions of the hospital process, but even such images as Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs. And it contains valuable lessons for anyone involved in training – even if it isn’t life or death. I also want to point out “Citizenship in Emergency” by Elaine Scarry. I am still not convinced I liked it, but it does an interesting job of drawing an analogy between the differences in the way two of the hijacked planes from 911 were handled (the one that hit the Pentagon and the one that crashed in Pennsylvania) and the way the country has handled Iraq (which was just about to start at the time of publication.) The analogy is stretched, but the writing is excellent.

I do not expect nothing but home runs in any collection like this, but I do expect more doubles and singles. And (to prove I am nothing if not clichéd), there are enough ground outs here to end the game as a shut out. ( )
  figre | May 28, 2007 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fadiman, AnneEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Atwan, RobertEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Aciman, AndréContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Antrim, DonaldContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Atwan, RobertForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cohen, RachelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doyle, BrianContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Epstein, JosephContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fadiman, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fisher, Marshall JonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Flanagan, CaitlinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Frazier, IanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gawande, AtulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gopnik, AdamContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gray, Francine du PlessixContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoagland, EdwardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jehlen, MyraContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kramer, JaneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Metcalf, BenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morton, FredericContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pollan, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pollitt, KathaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Scarry, ElaineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sontag, SusanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Spufford, FrancisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strayed, CherylContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Thurman, JudithContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wideman, John EdgarContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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