Cover image for The best American essays 2001
The best American essays 2001
Norris, Kathleen, 1947-
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Physical Description:
xvi, 315 pages ; 22 cm.
In the memory mines / Diane Ackerman -- How to pray: reverence, stories, and the Rebbe's dream / Ben Birnbaum -- The bone garden of desire / Charles Bowden -- Travels with R.L.S. / James Campbell -- Mail / Anne Fadiman -- The work of mourning / Francine du Plessix Gray -- Vin Laforge / Jeffrey Heiman -- Calliope Times / Edward Hoagland -- India's American imports / Adam Hochschild -- Refugium / Barbara Hurd -- On impact / Stephen King -- Blue machinery of summer / Yusef Komunyakaa -- The midnight tour / Marcus Laffey -- Facing the village / Lenore Look -- Book marks / Rebecca McClanahan -- Trouble in the tribe / Daphne Merkin -- Provincetown / David Michaelis -- Brain-cell memories / Spencer Nadler -- Dust / Mary Oliver -- Dear Harper : a letter to a godchild about God / Reynolds Price -- The fineness of things / Tim Robinson -- Cut time / Carlo Rotella -- Exquisite corpse / Ashraf Rushdy -- The last word / Earl Shorris -- On being breathless / Bert O. States -- Upside down and backward / William T. Vollman.

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Item Holds
PS688 .B47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads hundreds of pieces from dozens of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to the twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind.

From The New Yorker to The Georgia Review, from Esquire to The American Scholar, the editors of THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS have scoured hundreds of the country's best periodicals in search of the most artful and powerful writing around. This thoughtful, provocative collection is the result of their search.

Author Notes

Kathleen Norris is the author of two books of poetry, Falling Off (1971) and The Middle of the World (1981) and has received awards from the Guggenheim and Bush foundations. She lives in Lemmon, South Dakota, with her husband. ROBERT ATWAN has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide."

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Marking its 16th year, this series shows no sign of flagging. In fact, American nonfiction doesn't get much better. Culling from the country's finest periodicals the New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, American Scholar guest editor Norris (Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, etc.) has assembled 26 pieces of outstanding grace and beautys. Norris has done her part in restoring the joy of discovery for jaded readers Bert O. States explores the terrors that choke the brain; Marcus Laffey, a pseudonymous policeman, takes readers through a Bronx state of mind; Stephen King tackles trauma, and writing as recovery; Carlo Rotella studies pain and discipline through the boxing gloves of one of his literature students. In most cases, these writers leave behind at least one image to forever haunt the reader, lending these pieces that sense of the eternal: trays as "heavy as bad news," "the spear point of anxiety lodged in the heart," collapsed tenements left "open like dolls' houses," thick "cataracts of suspicion" clouding the eyes, nightmares like "sudden holes in one's pressurized suit in the deep of a dream." The drawbacks of this collection are negligible, mainly that Norris verges on thematic repetition by including several essays on Judaism and another on religious faith. This spiritual bent undoubtedly reflects her own concerns and may also be reflective of a certain spiritual thirst as America speeds into the new millennium. For as Norris has written in her introduction, this collection constitutes "a welcome open space in the crowded, busy landscape of American life." Other contributors include Diane Ackerman, Mary Oliver, Edward Hoagland, Francine du Plessix Gray, Ashraf Rushdy and William T. Vollmann. (Oct.) Forecast: With a $200,000 marketing campaign, this latest entry in the popular series should sell handsomely. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In its 16th year, this always interesting annual collection lives up to its predecessors. Series editor Robert Atwan and guest editor Norris (Cloister Walk) have chosen 26 essays from American Scholar, The New Yorker, Harper's, and other top periodicals. Several pieces reflect Norris's interest in religion, but the topics range far and wide. Earl Shorris contemplates what is lost when a language dies. Francine Du Plessix Gray tells of her complex, belated mourning for her father, extending her experience to the work of mourning in general. Bert O. States explores his recurring suffocation nightmare, while Rebecca McClanahan reads between the lines of the notes left in a library book by a previous reader. Other contributors include Diane Ackerman, Edward Hoagland, Stephen King, Reynolds Price, and Mary Oliver. Recommended for most libraries. Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



ForewordWhile teaching college writing courses years ago, I remember hearing a syllogism that may, it strikes me now, help explain the enormous popularity of the personal memoir. It went something like this: "You write best when you write about what you know; what you know best is yourself; therefore, you write best when you write about yourself." As a syllogism, this seemed valid: the conclusion followed logically from its premises, no? So why didnt I then receive better essays when I assigned personal topics? As anyone can see, the conclusion rests on dubious assumptions. The premises sound reasonable, but they raise some fundamental questions. Do people really write best about the subjects they know best? We see evidence all the time of experts not being able to communicate the basic concepts of their professions, which explains why so many technical books are written by both an expert and a writer. There are brilliant academics so committed to their vast research that they cant bear to part with any detail and thus clog up their sentences with an excess of information. If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, too much can sometimes be an impediment to clear and robust expression. The Shakespeareans do not always write the best books on Shakespeare. And can we also safely conclude that we know ourselves best of all? If so, then why do so many of us spend so much time in psychotherapy or counseling sessions? Surely, the pursuit of the self -- especially the "hidden" self -- has been a major twentieth- century industry. Self-knowledge, of course, confronts us with another logical problem: how can the self be at the same time the knower and the known? Thats why biographies can be so much more revealing than autobiographies. As Dostoyevsky said in his Notes from Underground: "A true autobiography is almost an impossibility... man is bound to lie about himself." Yet the illusion that we do know ourselves best must serve as both comfort and inspiration to the new wave of memoirists who seem to write with one finger glued to the shift key and another to the letter I, which on the keyboard looks nothing like it does on the page, thus appropriately symbolizing the relationship between that character and the "self" it presumes to represent. Todays writers market is flooded with autobiography -- now more likely to be labeled "memoir" in the singular, as though the more fashionable literary label promises something grander. Memoirs (the term was almost always used in the plural) were customarily written by public figures who recorded their participation in historical events and their encounters with other prominent individuals. General Ulysses S. Grants two-volume Personal Memoirs (1885-86) were bestsellers. The old memoirs were penned by well-established individuals in the twilight of their careers; the new memoir is frequently the work of an emerging writer aspiring to be well established. The memoir is easily abused by th Excerpted from The Best American Essays 2001 All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Robert AtwanKathleen NorrisDiane AckermanBen BirnbaumCharles BowdenJames CampbelAnne FadimanFrancine Du Plessix GrayJeffrey HeimanEdward HoaglandAdam HochschildBarbara HurdStephen KingYusef KomunyakaaMarcus LaffeyLenore LookRebecca McClanahanDaphne MerkinDavid MichaelisSpencer NadlerMary OliverReynolds PriceTim RobinsonCarlo RotellaAshraf RushdyEarl ShorrisBert O. StatesWilliam T. Vollmann
Forewordp. x
Introduction: Stories Around a Firep. xiv
In the Memory Mines (from Michigan Quarterly Review)p. 1
How to Pray: Reverence, Stories, and the Rebbe's Dream (from Image)p. 14
The Bone Garden of Desire (from Esquire)p. 30
Travels with R.L.S. (from The New York Times Book Review)p. 46
Mail (from The American Scholar)p. 50
The Work of Mourning (from The American Scholar)p. 60
Vin Laforge (from The Massachusetts Review)p. 73
Calliope Times (from The New Yorker)p. 82
India's American Imports (from The American Scholar)p. 94
Refugium (from The Georgia Review)p. 106
On Impact (from The New Yorker)p. 120
Blue Machinery of Summer (from The Washington Post Magazine)p. 132
The Midnight Tour (from The New Yorker)p. 141
Facing the Village (from Manoa)p. 152
Book Marks (from The Southern Review)p. 165
Trouble in the Tribe (from The New Yorker)p. 181
Provincetown (from The American Scholar)p. 193
Brain-Cell Memories (from Harper's Magazine)p. 208
Dust (from Shenandoah)p. 218
Dear Harper: A Letter to a Godchild About God (from Forbes ASAP)p. 221
The Fineness of Things (from The Recorder)p. 235
Cut Time (from The American Scholar)p. 246
Exquisite Corpse (from Transition)p. 261
The Last Word (from Harper's Magazine)p. 270
On Being Breathless (from The Gettysburg Review)p. 284
Upside Down and Backward (from Forbes ASAP)p. 296
Biographical Notesp. 303
Notable Essays of 2000p. 309