Best American Essays 2009 Review

The Best American Essays

Index:

The Best American Essays by year

Robert Atwan, series editor.

Now at:

The Best American Essays 2007

Edited and with an introduction by David Foster Wallace; Robert Atwan, series editor.

Atwan [p. xi] summarizes criteria for an essay's inclusion, ending:

To qualify for this volume, the essay must be a work of respectable literary quality, intended as a fully developed, independent essay on a subject of general interest (not specialized scholarship), originally written in English (or translated by the author) for publication in an American periodical during the calendar year. Today's essay is a highly flexible and shifting form, however, so these criteria are not carved in stone.

Be sure to read David Forster Wallace's Introduction: Deciderization 2007 -- A Special Report. :

Now at: Best American Essays: 2007

The Best American Essays 1996

Now at: Best American Essays: 1996 Includes the essay "Owls" by Mary Oliver, also available in two of her collections:

Loved it: decoder ring

I marked with a star an essay that I liked particularly, and with more than one star if I loved it. Approximate ratings (your kilometerage may vary):


I think it's unlikely that anyone is reading this as an introduction. Most of the people I know treat Best American Essays like Whitman Samplers. They skip around, pick and choose ... Which means that the reader has more freedom of choice, which of course is part of what this country is all about. ... The guest editor's intro is last, if at all.

 ... your guest editor is not really even the main sub-subcontractor on this job. The real Decider, in terms of processing info and reducing entropy, is Mr. Robert Atwan, the BAE series editor ... he's really the one doing the full-time reading and culling.

 Given the amount of quiet, behind-the-scenes power he wields over these prize collections, you're entitled to ask about Mr. Atwan's standard's for inclusion and forwarding;
[Here Wallace gives us the footnote for this page; he displays affection for peppered and peppery footnotes:

I believe this is what is known in the nonfiction industry as a transition. We are starting to poke tentatively at 'Best', which is the most obviously fraught and bias-prone word on the cover.
J.Z.]
but he's far too experienced and cagey to encourage these sorts of questions. ...

 I, on the other hand, have a strict term limit. After this, I go forever back to being an ordinary civilian and BAE reader (except for the introductions). I therefore feel free here to try for at least partial transparency about my Decidering criteria, some of which are obviously — let's be grownups and just admit it — subjective. ...

 But it is possible for something to be both a quantum of information and a vector of meaning.

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