Cover image for The best American essays 2003
The best American essays 2003
Fadiman, Anne, 1953-
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 339 pages ; 22 cm.
General Note:
Includes biographical notes (p. [329]-333).
Lavender / Andre ́Aciman -- I bought a bed / Donald Antrim -- Lost cities / Rachel Cohen -- Yes / Brian Doyle -- In a snob-free zone / Joseph Epstein -- Memoria ex machina / Marshall Jon Fisher -- Home alone / Caitlin Flanagan -- Researchers say / Ian Frazier -- The learning curve / Atul Gawande -- Bumping into Mr. Ravioli / Adam Gopnik -- The debacle / Francine Du Plessix Gray -- Circus music / Edward Hoagland -- F. P. / Myra Jehlen -- The reporter's kitchen / Jane Kramer -- Wooden Dollar / Ben Metcalf -- A delivery for Fred Astaire / Frederic Morton -- An animal's place / Michael Pollan -- Learning to drive / Katha Pollitt -- Citizenship in emergency / Elaine Scarry -- Looking at war / Susan Sontag -- The habit / Francis Spufford -- The love of my life / Cheryl Strayed -- Swann song / Judith Thurman -- Whose war / John Edgar Wideman.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Audubon Library PS682 .B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Since 1986, the Best American Essays series has gathered the best nonfiction writing of the year and established itself as the best-selling anthology of its kind. In this year's edition, essay veteran Katha Pollitt writes about learning to drive, and Adam Gopnik describes his daughter's peculiar take on our culture of busyness. Other creative-nonfiction luminaries are featured as well: Andre Aciman explores the emotional and nostalgic resonances of scents, and Michael Pollan considers the various ways of understanding animal rights. Culled from well-known magazines like The New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, and smaller periodicals like Raritan and the Georgia Review, these diverse and wide-ranging essays are sure to thrill fans of the genre.

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 pieces from hundreds 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 Threepenny Review, from the Atlantic Monthly to DoubleTake, the editors of The Best American Essays have scoured the country's best magazines in search of the most artful and powerful writing around. This thoughtful, provocative collection is the result of their search.

Andre Aciman Donald Antrim Atul Gawande Adam Gopnik Michael Pollan Katha Pollitt Susan Sontag John Edgar Wideman

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's always worth checking in with Atwan, series editor for this excellent essay annual. In the eighteenth installment, Atwan celebrates the bicentennial of premier American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and his landmark piece, The American Scholar, a powerful indictment of the awesome danger of influence. Serendipitously, this year's guest editor is Fadiman, editor of American Scholar and also a fine essayist, and she presents a splendid array of unpredictable and delectable essays that would simply floor Emerson were he to return. Adam Gopnik writes about his three-year-old daughter Olivia's very busy imaginary friend, Charlie Ravioli. Francine du Plessix Gray remembers her nine-year-old self, the fall of France, and her Resistance-fighter father's death. Edward Hoagland writes about the circus and our inner freak; Michael Pollan records his awakening to the plight of industrially farmed animals; Judith Thurman considers fashion and faith; and scent-triggered and technology-sparked memories occupy Andre Aciman and Marshall Jon Fisher. The death of loved ones, the reading habit, and 9/11 are also broached in this superb literary showcase. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her introduction, editor Fadiman (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down) proclaims that a shared attribute of the writers anthologized here is "restraint," and at times these essays do seem a bit sleepy. This may be a reflection of the volume's largely traditional sources: Fadiman confesses she simply found the writing in the New Yorker and Harper's to be superior. Indeed, the New Yorker's Adam Gopnick and Ian Frazier supply the collection's comedic quotient, the former reflecting on Charlie Ravioli, his daughter's New York-style imaginary playmate, and the latter spoofing magazine research-speak to conclude that, in fact, "life is too hard." Though Fadiman has limited her inclusion of political essays, she asserts that 2002's writing about September 11 had the benefit of emotional distance and, as such, was the most incisive analysis yet. We have, on the one hand, Elaine Scarry soberly dissecting the failure of the U.S. military to stop a hijacked plane from hitting the Pentagon, and on the other, John Edgar Wideman's incendiary definition of terrorism as a response to imperialist, racist power. Still, the most consistently impassioned writing here is in the personal essays. Cheryl Strayed and Donald Antrim turn out finely crafted, jarring explorations of what it means to mourn their dead mothers, while Katha Pollitt gives a painfully candid account of trying to understand the loss of a philandering lover. While the anthology ignores the younger crop of essayists appearing in less established publications, many of the selections are engaging and thoughtful, restrained but occasionally transcendent. (Oct. 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This 18th installment in the "Best American Essays" series runs the gamut of themes, from the joy of fatherhood to discussions of 9/11 and animal rights. Fadiman, editor of the American Scholar since 1998 and author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down and Ex Libris, aimed to select essays that captivated her in some way, whether with a memorable voice, vitality, fine craftsmanship, or deep exploration. Joseph Epstein's "In a Snob-Free Zone" laments that snobbery has become open to all for any reason-race, politics, victim status, or knowledge of wines-but admits that he doesn't live in the zone either. In "The Reporter's Kitchen," Jane Kramer interweaves her cooking and writing: "My stove is where my head clears, my impressions settle." Ben Metcalf suggests in "Wooden Dollar" that the coin commemorating Sacajawea ought to perhaps say "dead Indian" or "teenage mother" instead of "liberty." New Yorker writer Adam Gopnick has a daughter with an unusual imaginary friend, one who has a secretary to tell her he's too busy to play with her, described joyfully in "Bumping into Mr. Ravioli." Other essayists include Francis Spufford, Francine du Plessix-Gray, Andre Aciman, and Edward Hoagland. Brief biographies are included. Consistent in clarity as well as quality, this diverse collection of some of the year's best short nonfiction is recommended for academic and public libraries.-Nancy P. Shires, East Carolina Univ. Lib., Greenville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



IntroductionYou can tell a lot about people from the books they sleep with. Alexander the Great is said to have slept with a copy of the Iliad under his pillow. Charlemagne slept with Saint Augustines The City of God. When Edwin Herbert Land, the founder of Polaroid, was a boy, he snuggled up to Robert Woods Physical Optics. I used to sleep with a copy of the essays of Montaigne. It was a thick volume - 1,035 pages long, a 1933 Modern Library edition with a threadbare gray cover and a missing spine - that would have made a sizable lump under my pillow. (Those other guys must have had cast-iron cheeks. Or maybe they owned abridged versions.) Montaigne reposed on my bedside table. What our relationship lacked in propinquity it made up in constancy, since I was confined to bed twenty-four hours a day for the first eight months of a fragile pregnancy. Id spent the previous two decades as a wandering journalist, but now I required a literary trade that could be plied from a horizontal position: hence, my hasty metamorphosis from reporter to essayist. Who better to guide me than the ur-essayist, the inventor of the genre, the man who had retreated from public life at age thirty-eight to a round, bay-windowed, book-lined library on the third floor of a tower at his ancestral chteau: a solitary room, intentionally difficult of access, its silence broken only by the tolling of the Ave Maria on a great bronze bell? Montaignes famously meandering essays - "Of Idlenesse," "Of Lyers," "Of Vanitie," "Of Smels and Odors," "Of Vaine Subtilties, or Subtill Devices" (my edition was the creatively spelled 1603 translation by John Florio) - were just the ticket for a supine pregnant woman who was drifting in and out of sleep and incapable of remembering what shed been thinking five minutes earlier. They were, after all, essaies - a word their author chose in order to emphasize that he was attempting something, not perfecting it - and therefore didnt aspire to military regimentation. Montaigne would start talking about the fallibility of human experience, quoting Aristotle and Manilius and Epicurus and sounding splendidly high-minded, and then hed drift off into an aside on how he hated to be interrupted when he sat on his chamberpot. Or hed be in the middle of a sober discussion of inherited traits, and all of a sudden hed scoot into a three-page detour on his kidney stones ("Oh why have not I the gift of that dreamer, mentioned by Cicero, who dreaming that hee was closely embracing a yong wench; found himself ridde of the stone in his sheetes!"). This was exactly the way my own mind was working at the time - it could travel from motherhood to hemorrhoids at the speed of light - and, far from being intimidated by Montaigne, I began to think: Hey, maybe this is something I could do. And so, at the age of forty, lying on my left side, wrapped in a sweaty tangle of sheets, propping a laptop computer on the pillow under which Montaigne might have rest Excerpted from The Best American Essays 2003 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 AtwanAnne FadimanAndre AcimanDonald AntrimRachel CohenBrian DoyleJoseph EpsteinMarshall Jon FisherCaitlin FlanaganIan FrazierAtul GawandeAdam GopnikFrancine Du Plessix GrayEdward HoaglandMyra JehlenJane KramerBen MetcalfFrederic MortonMichael PollanKatha PollittElaine ScarrySusan SontagFrancis SpuffordCheryl StrayedJudith ThurmanJohn Edgar Wideman
Forewordp. ix
Introductionp. xiv
Lavender (from Harvard Review)p. 1
I Bought a Bed (from The New Yorker)p. 17
Lost Cities (from The Threepenny Review)p. 38
Yes (from The Georgia Review)p. 48
In a Snob-Free Zone (from The Washington Monthly)p. 53
Memoria ex Machina (from DoubleTake)p. 61
Home Alone (from The Atlantic Monthly)p. 67
Researchers Say (from The New Yorker)p. 79
The Learning Curve (from The New Yorker)p. 83
Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli (from The New Yorker)p. 103
The Debacle (from The American Scholar)p. 112
Circus Music (from Harper's Magazine)p. 125
F. P. (from Raritan)p. 136
The Reporter's Kitchen (from The New Yorker)p. 146
Wooden Dollar (from Harper's Magazine)p. 160
A Delivery for Fred Astaire (from Harper's Magazine)p. 174
An Animal's Place (from The New York Times Magazine)p. 190
Learning to Drive (from The New Yorker)p. 212
Citizenship in Emergency (from Boston Review)p. 223
Looking at War (from The New Yorker)p. 243
The Habit (from Granta)p. 274
The Love of My Life (from The Sun)p. 291
Swann Song (from The New Yorker)p. 308
Whose War (from Harper's Magazine)p. 320
Biographical Notesp. 329
Notable Essays of 2002p. 334

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