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The Pulitzer–Prize winning and Guggenheim-honored Hilton Als curates the best essays from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites, bringing “the fierce style of street reading and the formal tradition of critical inquiry, reads culture, race, and gender” (New York Times) to the task. “The essay, like love, like life, is indefinable, but you know an essay when you see The Pulitzer–Prize winning and Guggenheim-honored Hilton Als curates the best essays from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites, bringing “the fierce style of street reading and the formal tradition of critical inquiry, reads culture, race, and gender” (New York Times) to the task. “The essay, like love, like life, is indefinable, but you know an essay when you see it, and you know a great one when you feel it, because it is concentrated life,” writes Hilton Als in his introduction. Expertly guided by Als’s instinct and intellect, The Best American Essays 2018 showcases great essays as well as irresistibly eclectic ones. Go undercover in North Korea, delve into the question of race in the novels of William Faulkner, hang out in the 1970s New York music scene, and take a family road trip cum art pilgrimage. These experiences and more immersive slices of concentrated life await.  


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The Pulitzer–Prize winning and Guggenheim-honored Hilton Als curates the best essays from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites, bringing “the fierce style of street reading and the formal tradition of critical inquiry, reads culture, race, and gender” (New York Times) to the task. “The essay, like love, like life, is indefinable, but you know an essay when you see The Pulitzer–Prize winning and Guggenheim-honored Hilton Als curates the best essays from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites, bringing “the fierce style of street reading and the formal tradition of critical inquiry, reads culture, race, and gender” (New York Times) to the task. “The essay, like love, like life, is indefinable, but you know an essay when you see it, and you know a great one when you feel it, because it is concentrated life,” writes Hilton Als in his introduction. Expertly guided by Als’s instinct and intellect, The Best American Essays 2018 showcases great essays as well as irresistibly eclectic ones. Go undercover in North Korea, delve into the question of race in the novels of William Faulkner, hang out in the 1970s New York music scene, and take a family road trip cum art pilgrimage. These experiences and more immersive slices of concentrated life await.  

30 review for The Best American Essays 2018

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    There are a couple of essays on this collection that made me sit up and take notice. Rick Moody's "Notes on Lazarus," and John Seabrook's "My Father's Cellar" impressed me. A couple caught my interest even though they were about things in which I have little interest. "The Big Thing on His Mind", Thomas Powers' article about William Faulkner proved to be more than I expected. There were one of two essays I didn't enjoy, but others might, so I won't mention them. On the whole, this volume is cons There are a couple of essays on this collection that made me sit up and take notice. Rick Moody's "Notes on Lazarus," and John Seabrook's "My Father's Cellar" impressed me. A couple caught my interest even though they were about things in which I have little interest. "The Big Thing on His Mind", Thomas Powers' article about William Faulkner proved to be more than I expected. There were one of two essays I didn't enjoy, but others might, so I won't mention them. On the whole, this volume is consistent with others in the series. I learn new and diverse things from the best of American periodicals and books.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joe Kraus

    I read this volume most years, and I realize I’ve been coming to it, metaphorically, the way you might go to an office holiday party. That is, part of me wants to go – I enjoy good essays, and I enjoy a good party – but another part of me dreads it. It means having fun on someone else’s schedule; it means being in the middle of something and being called upon to share the larger emotion. (And it means thinking about how I want to use it in my upcoming class.) I’m happy to say that this is one of I read this volume most years, and I realize I’ve been coming to it, metaphorically, the way you might go to an office holiday party. That is, part of me wants to go – I enjoy good essays, and I enjoy a good party – but another part of me dreads it. It means having fun on someone else’s schedule; it means being in the middle of something and being called upon to share the larger emotion. (And it means thinking about how I want to use it in my upcoming class.) I’m happy to say that this is one of the stronger volumes in the series, one of the better parties. (It may fall a bit short of 2006, but then Lauren Slater may be the best essayist we have going.) As usual, our host is Bob Atwan, and that’s a good thing. I like Atwan as a writer and as a thinker about the essay form, and I like him as a teacher and person. I worked briefly with him more than a decade ago, and he has been considerate and responsive any time I’ve had to reach out to him since. This whole series is his brainchild, and he’s built it from a good idea into arguably the central event of the genre every year. Our caterer is Hilton Als. I’ve admired Als through his work in earlier volumes of the series, but I haven’t always felt in step with him. He’s written a couple pieces I’ve thought worthy of sharing with students (a high honor) but I’ve also felt as if I weren’t quite picking up on all his cues and references. I worried he’d select from among Atwan’s semi-final suggestions some essays that wore their difficulty on their sleeves. I prefer the essay that glides, and I prefer the essay that begins with the personal and moves into the public or political. (To be fair, Als writes that way himself; he just sometimes moves into the public in a rhythm that catches me off guard.) To be fair, nothing makes it into any of these volumes without being pretty good, but I’m always on the lookout for the personal essay as opposed to the topical, political, or analytical. That’s what I’m teaching – how an essayist can open up to the world – but it’s also often more satisfying. If you can make something compelling from your own compulsions, well, you’ve done it all without a net. In this case, Als is broad in the different pieces he’s selected, but everything has a touch of the personal. I’m glad to find that even the ones steeped in research give a glimpse of the thinker/essayist beneath. There’s something to enjoy about the self even in the essays by Baron Wormser or Leslie Jamison, ones that generally report on, respectively, Hannah Arendt and the women’s march on Washington. There are people here whom, to keep the party metaphor alive, I generally try to stay on the other side of the room from. There’s Noam Chomsky, for instance. He’s often irritating not so much because he’s right – which he often is – but because he seems always to be hectoring. He’s a progenitor of a certain kind of political purity; you’re with him or you’re against him. I’ve read his work and felt an intolerance of perspective; I may also disdain the perspective, but I don’t have the same impatience or judgement for it. This time, at this party, he’s well-behaved, though. His piece on climate change as existential threat is, oddly, milder in tone than I’m used to. He is as correct as he usually is, but he’s simply less obnoxious about it. And over there is Rick Moody. He’s that weird guy, the one you don’t feel comfortable admitting you have a lot in common with. He can be self-indulgent – and his tangent here about his thoughts on Nick Cave’s one-time guitar playing certainly feel that way – but he’s onto something with his “Notes on Lazarus.” For much of this, as with the best essays, you feel a restless mind at work, one that slowly moves toward something like peace. Moody doesn’t exactly do peace – at the very least, in what I’ve read, he’s attacking the form of his genre – but he catches a powerful wave and invites us to ride it with him for a while. As far as I’m concerned, the best of these are the ones by Marilyn Abildskov, Beth Uznis Johnson, and Kathryn Schulz. The first is a clever and moving depersonalization; Abildskov tells the story of a near relationship through the technical challenges of weaving a story. In hers, Johnson explores a “friendship” she finds with the mutual friend of someone who committed suicide. Through the weirdness of Facebook, they’re “introduced” by the dead friend, and the echoes are moving. And Schulz starts with a seemingly light series of reflections about what it means to “lose” things in the sense of misplacing them, and then somehow ratchets it into a beautiful meditation on losing her father. Beyond those excellent ones, there really are no stinkers at all in this collection. Granting that, in this context, there’s something to admire in anything Atwan awards semi-finalist standing, there aren’t any here that turn me off with their self-indulgence, esoteric tone, or pretentiousness. Three home runs is about the average for me in reading these anthologies, but there are usually at least a couple “stinkers.” Given that most of the others I haven’t mentioned are also very impressive (I think of the terribly sad, posthumous essay by David Wong Louie in particular) this is certainly worth picking up.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I’ve been reading these collections for several years now and I’m not sure how likely I am to continue. At least a few essays used to really grab me. Last few years? Eh. Not so much. The weird thing is this collection doesn’t even seem bad and the intro essay, Hilton Als piece of the day-to-day exhaustion of racism and the difficulty of slinging ‘fuck you’s back at the world, is fantastic. Is it me? Is it the collection? Is it the sordid state of world!?? I’m not sure. Anyway, here’s my favorites: I’ve been reading these collections for several years now and I’m not sure how likely I am to continue. At least a few essays used to really grab me. Last few years? Eh. Not so much. The weird thing is this collection doesn’t even seem bad and the intro essay, Hilton Als piece of the day-to-day exhaustion of racism and the difficulty of slinging ‘fuck you’s back at the world, is fantastic. Is it me? Is it the collection? Is it the sordid state of world!?? I’m not sure. Anyway, here’s my favorites: The Art at the End of the World by Heidi Julavits — I liked this essay when I read it and I like it even more as I reflect on it. Our narrator drags her husband and two kids out to the Great Salt Lake, where sometime in the 70s, a peculiar land artist created a sort of jetty that spirals into the water. He did so intentionally during a drought so it can be seen only rarely. The family’s trip is heavily inspired by Julavits’ childhood on the coast of Maine, during the height of the Cold War and imminent threat of nuclear annihilation. Being at the edge of the world in Maine, she could easily imagine apocalyptic wastelands. Now, under threat of the effects of climate change, she wants her children, who live a city life far from the end of the world, to become equipped to imagine the end of all (most) things. The Great Salt Lake and a sometimes-seen artwork is the avenue for this. How to prepare for likely mass destruction? Learn to cope with the wasteland. Good stuff. The Other Steve Harvey by Steve Harvey— No, he’s not that Steve Harvey, man of the wondrous ‘stache, though on the phone he is confused as such. This Harvey’s essay about the face we put to the world and all the assumptions that come with it, and more importantly, the assumptions we make based purely on the faces we see on others is excellent. Musings on Trayvon Martin and Barrack Obama follow. How to make it so the first thing a person notices about another person is not that they are black is the question here, of which Harvey doesn’t have much of an answer as he repeatedly fails at trying to achieve it. My Father’s Cellar by John Seabrook — In a spectacular effort to imitate the upper crust of England, Seabrook’s father has a highly prized, lovingly crafted wine cellar in the basement of their house. The locked door is hidden behind a bookcase, and when later the cellar is expanded, the second set of rooms is behind a fake brick wall. It’s almost immediately obvious here that Seabrook the child will become Seabrook the alcoholic, but this isn’t an essay whose strength is revelation. Instead, it’s a remarkably well drawn slice of life. I feel like I walked through that cellar, feel like I met Seabrook Sr. This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ctgt

    Like most collections some of these essays really struck a chord while others never moved me. I will say there was a nice variety of essays including art, fashion, wine, politics, fashion....life. Hopefully you will find something you enjoy. Here were my favorites; The Other Steve Harvey by Steven Harvey from Michigan Quarterly Review. An inner examination by the author of his attitudes toward race and race relations. The March on Everywhere by Leslie Jameson from Harper's Magazine about the author Like most collections some of these essays really struck a chord while others never moved me. I will say there was a nice variety of essays including art, fashion, wine, politics, fashion....life. Hopefully you will find something you enjoy. Here were my favorites; The Other Steve Harvey by Steven Harvey from Michigan Quarterly Review. An inner examination by the author of his attitudes toward race and race relations. The March on Everywhere by Leslie Jameson from Harper's Magazine about the author's experiences in the Women's March. But already, we were made of nerves and excitement. We were buzzed on coffee. We were breastfeeding babies. We were part of a creature with four million faces. We were a bunch of strangers intoxicated by our shared purpose, which is to say: we were a we. There is no activism that isn't full of logistics and resentments and boring details. Commitment to anything larger than your own life often looks mythic in retrospect. But on the ground, it's all in-box pileup and childcare guilt; it's a lot of wondering if you're having the right feelings or the wrong ones, or confusion about which is which. It's messy and chaotic and imperfect-which isn't the flaw of it but the glory of it. It trades the perfect for the necessary, for the something, for the beginning and the spark. Land of Darkness by Suki Kim from Lapham's Quarterly Suki Kim is the only known writer who lived undercover in North Korea. A short piece on fear and waiting. It often seems to me that the desire to comprehend fear strikes at a mystery at the center of life. We breathe toward death; each moment alive is a clock tick toward not living any longer. There is no happy ending, and to help all this make sense to us, we repeat histories, fight needless wars, recite prayers, and fall in love, often more than once, with people who will break our hearts. Life is born from those blind spots, with each mishap, every accident. Eat, Memory by David Wong Louie from Harper's Magazine. For all you foodies out there, imagine losing the capability to eat. The Big Thing on His Mind by Thomas Powers from The New York Review of Books on Faulkner and his treatment of race in his novels. Clothes That Don't Need You by David Salle from The New York Review of Books, listen I know absolutely nothing about fashion but I thought this was an interesting look at fashion and its intersection with art. Losing Streak by Kathryn Schulz from The New Yorker this might be my favorite as it starts out humorous and fairly light about misplacing items but then turns more serious as it deals with the loss of a loved one. Meanwhile, I had lost, along with everything else, all the motivation; day after day, I did as close as humanly possible to nothing. In part, this was because I dreaded getting farther away from the time when my father was still alive. But it was also because, after all the obvious tasks of mourning were completed-the service over, the bureaucratic side of death dispatched, the clothing donated, the thank-you cards written- I had no idea what else to do. Although I had spent a decade worrying about losing my father, I had never once thought about what would come next. Like a heart, my imagination had always stopped at the moment of death. Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience, urging us to make better use of our finite days. 6/10

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shemaiah Gonzalez

    These annual collections of The Best American Essays should be required reading for any Creative Non-Fiction writer. The collection runs the gamut of topics and styles and serves as inspiration for those of us that aspire to join the greats. Two essays “Eat, Memory” and “Notes on Lazarus” stuck out for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    I am generally a big fan of the Best American series. The past few years of the Essay books have been iffy, and this....was good, but I would have liked to have seen more women, and more...I can’t put my finger on it, but when I think of the years that I really loved, the topics were more personal, more accessible. More essays taken from indie lit journals or unexpected places, rather than the New Yorker or NYRB or Lapham’s or NYT magazine or the usual lit mags. I know each editor brings their o I am generally a big fan of the Best American series. The past few years of the Essay books have been iffy, and this....was good, but I would have liked to have seen more women, and more...I can’t put my finger on it, but when I think of the years that I really loved, the topics were more personal, more accessible. More essays taken from indie lit journals or unexpected places, rather than the New Yorker or NYRB or Lapham’s or NYT magazine or the usual lit mags. I know each editor brings their own preferences and flavor to the collections, so maybe that’s it. This collection, while there were several essays that I really loved, often felt suffocating and stilted to me in some ways. It’s worth a read, and many people might love this year’s collection. For me, it missed the mark a little bit.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Iva

    The 2018 collection contains many excellent essays. It begins with a sprawling introduction by editor Hilton Als which later was printed in the New Yorker. Many of these essays have come from the east coast such as The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Massachusetts Review and The Harvard Review. Especially memorable were: John Seabrook - My Father's Cellar David Won Louie - Eat, memory Suki Kim - Land of Darkness The 2018 collection contains many excellent essays. It begins with a sprawling introduction by editor Hilton Als which later was printed in the New Yorker. Many of these essays have come from the east coast such as The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Massachusetts Review and The Harvard Review. Especially memorable were: John Seabrook - My Father's Cellar David Won Louie - Eat, memory Suki Kim - Land of Darkness

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Good collection Skipped a few essays on topics that didn't grab me, but that Hannah Arendt one is 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥 Good collection Skipped a few essays on topics that didn't grab me, but that Hannah Arendt one is 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scott Bilodeau

    I first discovered the "Best American" series of series last year when I picked up a book of "Best American Travel Writing". It was a wonderful collection of manageable, published vignettes written by various, not so well known American authors. This particular one focuses on essays. The guest author who writes the introduction that sets the stage indicated that the essays loosely deal with the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election and all of the horrible things that have come of it. Bu I first discovered the "Best American" series of series last year when I picked up a book of "Best American Travel Writing". It was a wonderful collection of manageable, published vignettes written by various, not so well known American authors. This particular one focuses on essays. The guest author who writes the introduction that sets the stage indicated that the essays loosely deal with the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election and all of the horrible things that have come of it. But the essays mostly have nothing to do with the election. They instead focus on a much more micro level and reveal struggles, both internal and with the external world, that these authors have faced, are currently facing, or are grappling with. The first handful were so moving and heart-felt that I began recommending the book to anyone I thought might be interested. One, entitled "The Other Steve Harvey" starts off comically about the author's humorous, coincidental experience of sharing the same name with a famous game show host with whom the author has almost nothing in common. But then a change in tone occurs and other subheadings for sections appear such as "The Other Trayvon Martin", which references a speech that Barack Obama gave when he says that what happened could have easily happened to him at a younger age. And the essay continues along the same strain. Another begins with the author pouring over the pictures of a facebook friend, as she deduces things about his life. I assumed it was going to be an essay about how we have become so distanced from each other that exercises like this have created an empty replacement for true intimacy. Instead, what is revealed is that the author's friend has taken his life and she is trying desperately to find answers in any way that she can to make sense of it all and to see if she could have noticed something - anything - that would have clued her in before the fact. Another was about the women's march that took place shortly after the inauguration of the person currently sitting in the White House. In it, the author speaks of how we oftentimes equate protest with the loud pronouncements or the messages in the media or crowd size or whatever but it's just as much the mess that is the lack of organization, the broken cell phone dropped on the ground, the sore feet and back, etc. The book started out so strong that I was anticipating it to be one of the best books I would have read in years. But alas, the writings lost steam for me after the first handful. There were a number of duds and a few really good ones afterwards - one that was a very insightful detailing of the thought process behind the author's struggle with her gambling addiction. Another was about how an author had to feed himself via a feeding tube because of a cancer operation and had lost the ability to physically eat as it no longer served a purpose for him. As a result, he had also lost the joy of going to a restaurant and sharing a meal with family or friends. The essays that were heartfelt were the ones that moved me the most. But one thing I noticed about almost all of them is that I found the endings to be almost entirely unsatisfying. It's like they got this rhythm going and then the words just stopped without any resolution or tie-in or gratifying period at the end of a sentence. As if they were telling you something and they let their voice trail off mid-sentence without completing the thought. It made me wonder afterwards. Does that say something about me? About these authors? About essay writing in general? Unfortunately that feeling transferred to the book at large. I'm still glad I read the really great essays that I did read and I liked the book overall but in the end, I felt a bit disappointed that the book didn't end up being the awesome book I originally thought it was going to be and instead just ended up being ok.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chris DiLeo

    A month ago, I was in the mood to read essays. Not my students' essays, mind you, but professional, well-crafted works that probe the mysteries of the universe and the soul. A genuinely good (meaning: insightful, significant, and in some [even small] way, profound) essay is one of the great pleasures of the literate person's life. At least it is for me. Fiction will always be my first and most enduring love, and poetry is, as I creep into middle age, a frequent flirt, promising a momentary seduc A month ago, I was in the mood to read essays. Not my students' essays, mind you, but professional, well-crafted works that probe the mysteries of the universe and the soul. A genuinely good (meaning: insightful, significant, and in some [even small] way, profound) essay is one of the great pleasures of the literate person's life. At least it is for me. Fiction will always be my first and most enduring love, and poetry is, as I creep into middle age, a frequent flirt, promising a momentary seduction, but non-fiction has become my teacher. To that end, this book offered me many teachers with disparate and, yes, profound, lessons. Every piece in this collection is a standout for one reason or another. But as with my teachers in school and college, I have favorites—some for their humor, some for their erudition, and some for their compassion. The same is true here. My favorites include "Prospects for Survival" by Noam Chomsky* (we might be doomed, seriously); "Cadence" by Paul Crenshaw* (the power of military song); "The Other Steve Harvey" by Steven Harvey (an honest look at race); "Land of Darkness" by Suki Kim (seeking understanding among the tyrants); "Eat, Memory" by David Wong Louie (the agony of cancer, the joy of food); "Five Famous Asian War Photographs" by Amit Majmudar*(a lesson of great importance not to be spoiled here); "Losing Streak" by Kathryn Shulz* (car keys and fathers: what it means to lose things); and "The Moon, the World, the Dream" by Clifford Thompson* (there's crazy stuff all around us, and some mysteries will never be solved). *These are the favorites of my favorites, and in a collection of essays that tries to reconcile meaning out of chaos, I find such distinction perfectly appropriate, even if it is all meaningless—or perhaps precisely because it is so.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

    Here were my two favorite essays from BAE2018: —Leslie Jamison's "The March on Everywhere" (https://harpers.org/archive/2017/04/t...) about the the Women's March, but more broadly the shape of activism in one's life —Kathryn Schulz's "Losing Streak" (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...) about 'loss', mostly that of her father I loved several more. An essay about a memory of a UFO, for example, changed the way I think about the relationship between parents and children. Others I skipped or ski Here were my two favorite essays from BAE2018: —Leslie Jamison's "The March on Everywhere" (https://harpers.org/archive/2017/04/t...) about the the Women's March, but more broadly the shape of activism in one's life —Kathryn Schulz's "Losing Streak" (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...) about 'loss', mostly that of her father I loved several more. An essay about a memory of a UFO, for example, changed the way I think about the relationship between parents and children. Others I skipped or skimmed; it's hard, I imagine, for an essay collection by various writers to please every reader every time. Plus, I don't have the stamina I did when I was younger and in college and trying to prove that I could, should, and would learn everything about everything. Still, BAE2018 reminded me that an essay I wouldn't otherwise read can surprise me. Maybe this reminder will push me to tackle the downright insulting pile of New Yorkers in my kitchen. Probably not.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    I love reading Best American series while I travel because they feel less prone to interruption. I can finish a story or an essay while I'm sitting at the gate, waiting for take-off, in the time before beverages are served. I have time to puzzle over what I just read. But I found myself becoming increasingly impatient with the essays selected for BAE 2018. Hilton Als writes in his introduction: "Indeed, the essays I'm attracted to ... have something unfinished about them, a circle that cannot be I love reading Best American series while I travel because they feel less prone to interruption. I can finish a story or an essay while I'm sitting at the gate, waiting for take-off, in the time before beverages are served. I have time to puzzle over what I just read. But I found myself becoming increasingly impatient with the essays selected for BAE 2018. Hilton Als writes in his introduction: "Indeed, the essays I'm attracted to ... have something unfinished about them, a circle that cannot be closed, filled with dread ..." I'm not sure I would call the essays in this series unfinished, but there was something ponderous and slow and, ultimately, unsatisfying about the whole. I loved Kathryn Schulz's "Losing Streak." I enjoyed David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory" and Steven Harvey's "The Other Steve Harvey." And then I pined for the notables.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Bertaina

    I prefer this iteration of The Best American Essays to the last one I read, edited by Franzen, which gave a strong preference to journalistic pieces. I love a good journalism essay, but I tend to write personal essays and this volume is full of personal essays. The essay, "Losing Streak," by Kathryn Schulz was my favorite in the entire volume, but I found many others to love including You are the Phenomenology by Timothy O'Keefe, Luck You by Sherry Simpson and Hannah Arendt in New York by Baron I prefer this iteration of The Best American Essays to the last one I read, edited by Franzen, which gave a strong preference to journalistic pieces. I love a good journalism essay, but I tend to write personal essays and this volume is full of personal essays. The essay, "Losing Streak," by Kathryn Schulz was my favorite in the entire volume, but I found many others to love including You are the Phenomenology by Timothy O'Keefe, Luck You by Sherry Simpson and Hannah Arendt in New York by Baron Wormser. Again, much to love about this particular volume, which deeply intertwines the personal and the political.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Drinkinwookie

    I gave it five stars since there were at least 6 essays that were absolutely great: Suki Kim's about going to North Korea the one about the guy who has to have food injected into him for medical reasons the one about losing things the one about political protests the one about gambling the one about those marching songs in the military Most of the rest were good or at least had some good or interesting about them. It's nice reading essays if, like me, you are generally a book reader as an essay rarely I gave it five stars since there were at least 6 essays that were absolutely great: Suki Kim's about going to North Korea the one about the guy who has to have food injected into him for medical reasons the one about losing things the one about political protests the one about gambling the one about those marching songs in the military Most of the rest were good or at least had some good or interesting about them. It's nice reading essays if, like me, you are generally a book reader as an essay rarely outstays its welcome. Even if it's a book of essays.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anie

    A lovely collection of essays. There were a few in here that didn't really speak to me, but the majority of this collection is super-solid -- thought-provoking and enjoyable both. A lovely collection of essays. There were a few in here that didn't really speak to me, but the majority of this collection is super-solid -- thought-provoking and enjoyable both.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    This is a solid collection, like many anthologies the good stories are very, very good and the others are much less so. This collection of essays features some that are superb. Noam Chomsky’s essay “ Prospects For Survival “ from The Massachusetts Review offers a sobering look at human behavior, and our prospects because of it. He speaks to the theory that more advanced societies have a much shorter life span than simpler ones. The KISS theory manifest. As Chomsky writes “ The most successful or This is a solid collection, like many anthologies the good stories are very, very good and the others are much less so. This collection of essays features some that are superb. Noam Chomsky’s essay “ Prospects For Survival “ from The Massachusetts Review offers a sobering look at human behavior, and our prospects because of it. He speaks to the theory that more advanced societies have a much shorter life span than simpler ones. The KISS theory manifest. As Chomsky writes “ The most successful organisms are those that mutate quickly, like bacteria, or that have fixed niches to which they keep, whatever happens, like beetles. As we move up the scale of what we call intelligence, biological success declines. Large mammals never did very well. Humans are a statistical blip in the past few hundred years.” Your Friend/My Friend Tad was written by Beth Uznis Johnson in Southwest Review. In this essay she writes about, and to, her friend recently deceased by a suicide. In the time since she has made friends with the departed’s friend Tad. They both suffered the same loss. As she reflects genuinely she ends by acknowledging that despite how much she likes Tad she wishes she had never got to know him and is sure he feels the same. Heidi Julavits wrote “ The Art at the End of the World “ in The New York Times Magazine. I was not overly interested in the subject, called “ The Spiral Jetty” a piece of famous seventies land art that reaches into The Great Salt Lake. WhAt was special was her writing of the journey there with her family. Her young sons, like most city kids, were not impressed with the magnificent desolation of the Utah landscape. She uniquely referred to the boys as the crows such as “ The crows remarked, with slightly more enthusiasm, “ It looks like Minecraft out here.” “ The Big Thing on His Mind “ written by Thomas Powers, from The New York Review of Books focuses on William Faulkner and the problem of using his writing in today’s world, especially regarding his treatment of race. While Faulkner wrote of, and was clearly aware of the South’s manifest sin as it relates to race, he also was a man who spoke and, in some ways possibly regrettable to himself, thought in the way of his time. The question he asks is if today’s student, today’s reader can pass the test of hearing about Faulkner’s faults and still acknowledging the light he shone on the history of the South. Race, Slavery, and Sex, it was all a part of the same horrible, evil, place and Faulkner shone that light, perhaps as bright as anyone in the twentieth century. About the past he famously wrote in a late novel, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” He meant that the meaning and the burden of the past are inextricably laced within the present. “There is no such thing as was—only is,” he told his last girlfriend, Jean Stein, when she interviewed him for The Paris Review. About the South Faulkner was ambivalent, especially with strangers. “Well, I love it and hate it,” he told reporters in Japan in 1955. “Some of the things there I don’t like at all, but I was born there, and that’s my home, and I will still defend it even if I hate it.” One who wrote frankly of the South’s problem was Mary Chesnut, daughter of one large slave owner and wife of another, who recorded the great fact in her diary before the Civil War: I wonder if it be a sin to think slavery a curse to any land. Sumner said not one word of this hated institution which is not true. . . . Like the patriarchs of old our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines, and the mulattoes one sees in every family exactly resemble the white children—and every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds. The Sumner she credits with speaking the truth was Senator Charles Sumner whose statement served as the predictable for his beating the floor of the Senate by a Carolina Congressman. The whole essay is to review author Bleikasten’s book on the Faulkner problem. He notes “ As soon as the abolitionist Yankee North started to contest slavery,” Bleikasten notes, “its justification drove all political discourse.” He stops there, but we might go further and date the birth of the “solid South” to the 1845 split of the Baptist Church into a Southern and a Northern Convention, resulting from disputes over the issue of slavery. The solid South has never cracked but has continued to speak with a single dominant voice, justifying slavery before the Civil War and defending Jim Crow laws and lynching in the following century. During that century the solid South controlled the US Senate on the issues that mattered to it most, and it is no less solid in speaking with a single political voice now following its takeover of the Republican Party. Surely a lot to unpack in this very important piece of writing. Without doubt the strongest piece comes from Kathryn Schultz of The New Yorker. Titled “ Losing Streak “ the author tells of her decision to leave the heat of New York City for the summer for the coolness of the Northwest inky to find herself going through a fit of losing things, objects, keys, wallets, and much, much more. This moves into a dissertation on loss itself, including the ultimate loss, death. This is shown through her story of the death of her Father, a vibrant man who she imagines loving life so much that to die must have been of an especially painful process of letting go. She writes “Like a dysfunctional form of love, which to some extent it is, grief has no boundaries; seldom this fall could I distinguish my distress over these later losses from my sadness about my father. Yet my memories can’t add up to a single moment of what it was like to be my father, and all my loss pales beside his own. Like Whitman, his love of life had been exuberant, exhaustive; he must have hated, truly hated, to leave it behind—not just his family, whom he adored, but all of it, sea to shining sea. “ I will also quote at length here as Schultz writes about the modern problem of, simply, how much we can lose each day. She writes “ Thus, the internet is middling on your lost credit card or Kindle, but edifying on your lost Roomba (look inside upholstered furniture), your lost marijuana (your high self probably hid it in a fit of paranoia; try your sock drawer), your lost drone (you’ll need a specially designed GPS), or your lost Bitcoins (good luck with that). The Passwords, passports, umbrellas, scarves, earrings, earbuds, musical instruments, W-2s, that letter you meant to answer, the permission slip for your daughter’s field trip, the can of paint you scrupulously set aside three years ago for the touch-up job you knew you’d someday need: the range of things we lose and the readiness with which we do so are staggering.” This subject hits home for me. My wife and I are probably no more different in the way we work to solve the issue of losing things. To lose something drives me insane, I detest it and, frankly, do not react well to it. Because of this, over the course of my life I have developed strategies, my wallet, keys, sunglasses, are always placed in the same place. I have a couple of special boxes for things that cannot be lost. My wife on the other hand loses her keys. Her sunglasses, her credit cards, a special screw we need to fix the door lock when it freezes up, almost daily, sometimes hourly. Her response is cheerful almost. She will write a grocery list and then lose it, or she will find it in her purse that she looked in two hours after she returns home from the store. And yet when I sY to her “ You know if you put your keys in the same place every time “ she looks at me, smiles, and says “ Do you remember who you are talking to. “ But, if you ask me whose life is more upset or affected by losing or the potential of losing things it would most certainly be mine. Schultz is the definition of a writer. Whether it be this profound piece, which I understand she now be expanding into a book length work, or her recent writing about the potentialities of a super earthquake in the American Northwest, or in countless other writings she is a master. There are many other solid, interesting reads in this book. I only have written about those I deemed exceptional.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    As usual, a very mixed bag, read because I like to see what characterizes essays chosen as "the best"; basically a fool's errand. A fair number of these can be accessed online, including some of the best such as the Jennifer Kabat essay (my very favorite, and truly transportive) and the Heidi Julavits. Both integrate the subject of climate change with other concerns, personal, familial, or historical. Perhaps surprisingly, only one other piece speaks to climate change (Chomsky's); it does so from As usual, a very mixed bag, read because I like to see what characterizes essays chosen as "the best"; basically a fool's errand. A fair number of these can be accessed online, including some of the best such as the Jennifer Kabat essay (my very favorite, and truly transportive) and the Heidi Julavits. Both integrate the subject of climate change with other concerns, personal, familial, or historical. Perhaps surprisingly, only one other piece speaks to climate change (Chomsky's); it does so from a meta-political viewpoint. Other trends here are critical or criticism-adjacent essays, a clear preference of the volume editor, critic Hilton Als. Alas, many of these were not much to write home about. I enjoyed artist David Salle's take on a museum retrospective of a current Japanese fashion designer's career (alas, I forget her name just now), despite having previously known nothing of her. The best of the critical pieces, but I'm not convinced it belongs in a best of like this one. (Marian needs to do her own anthology, clearly...) Luc Sante's salute to the NYC music scene of his young adulthood has some kind of energy and killer sentences but was too baroque and in the end solipsistic for my taste. Rick Moody's summary-critique of Lazarus-inspired art of all genres was decent, if workmanlike. An NYRB review-essay of a reissued Faulkner bio was truly crap. If it at all exemplified Ian Buruma's editorship, then all the more enthusiastic of a good riddance from me. The other trend was for biographical essays (the last-mentioned fits the category), which I found rather ho-hum, though I admit to a slight ignorance since I cut short my read of the piece on Frantz Fanon. Otherwise, I read the whole damn thing so you don't have to. (TM)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jake Johnson

    Disappointing set. Many of the works included might be better considered simply nonfiction narratives with a rare nod towards making a point. Often, however, these stories don't get much further than relating what the writer has experienced. The disappointment is perhaps accented by what those of us aware of the larger world have experienced in 2018--a corrupt administration, terrfying changes in environmental policy and tax laws, attacks on the rule of law, assaults on serious newspapers and te Disappointing set. Many of the works included might be better considered simply nonfiction narratives with a rare nod towards making a point. Often, however, these stories don't get much further than relating what the writer has experienced. The disappointment is perhaps accented by what those of us aware of the larger world have experienced in 2018--a corrupt administration, terrfying changes in environmental policy and tax laws, attacks on the rule of law, assaults on serious newspapers and television news stations, serious if often foolish debates about immigration policies, and much more. I understand the desire to avoid subjects that are so often in the headlines that they would be in danger of being only topical, or difficult to understand outside of the context of the immediate situation. Yet many of these essays seem so strangely oblivious to our situtation, or any situation outside of the private experience of the narrator, that there is a sense of huddling in a small room, seeking comfort in private miseries that distract from the larger ones looming outside their door. There is a Chomsky essay about our chances of surviving 0ur determined efforts to destroy ourselves. There are essays about racism and about global warming, but these seem both obligatory and dated, as well as preaching to the choir. Most of the other essays are oddly private in their subject and limited in their scope. Strangely, and surely by accident, the final essay is about Hannah Aredndt.

  19. 4 out of 5

    N

    This is a fairly standard BAE volume, with some goodies and some snoozers. According to my checkmark rating system (1 for good essays, 2 for great, 3 for fantastic), this volume contains 7 I'd happily revisit: 1 Checkmark Paul Crenshaw's "Cadence" Steven Harvey's "The Other Steve Harvey" Beth Uznis Johnson's "Your Friend/My Friend, Ted" David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory" Kathryn Schulz's "Losing Streak" Sherry Simpson's "Lucky You" 2 Checkmarks Leslie Jamison's "The March on Everywhere" The front material This is a fairly standard BAE volume, with some goodies and some snoozers. According to my checkmark rating system (1 for good essays, 2 for great, 3 for fantastic), this volume contains 7 I'd happily revisit: 1 Checkmark Paul Crenshaw's "Cadence" Steven Harvey's "The Other Steve Harvey" Beth Uznis Johnson's "Your Friend/My Friend, Ted" David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory" Kathryn Schulz's "Losing Streak" Sherry Simpson's "Lucky You" 2 Checkmarks Leslie Jamison's "The March on Everywhere" The front material does deserve mention--Robert Atwan's forward is more of an essay than usual with some useful commentary about the vitality of the form. Hilton Als's intro is also a wise examination of the essay's relevance, interweaving personal significance for added depth: "Part of what drew me to the pieces collected here is how the writers managed to discover, during a hard rain, times even of humor, and sometimes beauty, and a great heaping of pain and incomprehension that they wanted to make sense of. These voices encourage me to not not speak, despite history and most evidence to the contrary saying otherwise" (xxiii). And as I often do, I must mention the representation of women writers: 9 of the 24 anthologized essays were by women. The ratio's been worse, but (man!) could it be better.

  20. 4 out of 5

    christina

    As with most BAE essays, most of the essays collected here are narrative, which makes this collection merely decent. I personally find that most narrative essays somewhat self-indulgent and often don't alight on any real poignancy, which is to say that a well-written narrative essay is extremely difficult to write that isn't overtly self-indulgent while also offering insight that could not be had had the essayist had not presented his narrative in the particular way that they did. Good examples As with most BAE essays, most of the essays collected here are narrative, which makes this collection merely decent. I personally find that most narrative essays somewhat self-indulgent and often don't alight on any real poignancy, which is to say that a well-written narrative essay is extremely difficult to write that isn't overtly self-indulgent while also offering insight that could not be had had the essayist had not presented his narrative in the particular way that they did. Good examples of this is "To My One Love", "Once More to the Lake", "Federer as Religious Experience", and "A Room of One's Own", wherein each of these essays pulls the reader into the narrative so that the reader might experience and gain insight into the experience just as the writer had. Sadly, this kind of pathos was lacking in this collection, which also meant the engagements of my students to the essays also was lackluster.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This collection was a little flat for me. Many of the essays lacked new or unique insights and observations. Some were just inaccessible. Overall, I thought the collection was grim and kind of dull. There were three that I thought succeeded in at least being interesting and revelatory (to me, anyhow). Those are "The Big Thing On His Mind" by Thomas Powers which has a fascinating though debatable theory of the works of William Faulkner. I very much enjoyed "No Direction Home: The Journey of Frant This collection was a little flat for me. Many of the essays lacked new or unique insights and observations. Some were just inaccessible. Overall, I thought the collection was grim and kind of dull. There were three that I thought succeeded in at least being interesting and revelatory (to me, anyhow). Those are "The Big Thing On His Mind" by Thomas Powers which has a fascinating though debatable theory of the works of William Faulkner. I very much enjoyed "No Direction Home: The Journey of Frantz Fanon" by Adam Shatz. Fanon led an incredible life, even though it was short. The problems with his approach to liberation deserve more attention in the discourse about equality and inclusion. I liked "Hannah Arendt in New York" by Baron Wormser which summarized the thinking and life of this important philosopher in a creative way even if the writing didn't totally work for me. Besides those three, I thought the collection lacked interesting ideas and was pretty forgettable.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Art

    Essays evolved five hundred years go as a new form of expression, characterizing an open and inquiring mind. But will the essay survive in a dogmatic era such as our own times, ponders Robert Atwan, the editor of this series, now in its thirty-third year. The guest editor receives a hundred essays from the hundreds screened by Atwan during the year. The guest may add a few then makes the final selection. Not one of the two dozen entries in this year’s collection connected with me. Nothing notewo Essays evolved five hundred years go as a new form of expression, characterizing an open and inquiring mind. But will the essay survive in a dogmatic era such as our own times, ponders Robert Atwan, the editor of this series, now in its thirty-third year. The guest editor receives a hundred essays from the hundreds screened by Atwan during the year. The guest may add a few then makes the final selection. Not one of the two dozen entries in this year’s collection connected with me. Nothing noteworthy. As the years march on, I find The Best American Science and Nature Writing series more satisfying.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aimee Barnes Pestano

    This anthology is a mixed bag, with something for nearly everyone, although the political diversity is lacking which doesn't surprise me given America's current climate. David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory," a contemplation on food after not eating for six years due to throat cancer, is a standout that's worth reading more than once. I'm sad to learn that he's passed away- what a brilliant writer. Edwidge Dandicat's "All the Home You've Got" is also one to read slowly and meditate upon. I was confus This anthology is a mixed bag, with something for nearly everyone, although the political diversity is lacking which doesn't surprise me given America's current climate. David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory," a contemplation on food after not eating for six years due to throat cancer, is a standout that's worth reading more than once. I'm sad to learn that he's passed away- what a brilliant writer. Edwidge Dandicat's "All the Home You've Got" is also one to read slowly and meditate upon. I was confused as to why a few of the essays were chosen- for instance, Noam Chomsky's "Prospects for Survival" seemed out of place.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Myles

    Perfectly fine sampler of essays for a flight from New York to SF. As usual, the best cover race (Als, Harvey) and political currents (Jameson, Mujmudar). The worst are self-aggrandizing (Seabrook), tragically edited down (the Faulkner profile) or completely vapid (Salle). Rick Moody does his usual Rick Moody dance in an essay on Lazarus of Bethany, starting narrow before lavishing us with fascinating tangents that allow him to avoid getting personal. It's like peeling an orange and finding a wh Perfectly fine sampler of essays for a flight from New York to SF. As usual, the best cover race (Als, Harvey) and political currents (Jameson, Mujmudar). The worst are self-aggrandizing (Seabrook), tragically edited down (the Faulkner profile) or completely vapid (Salle). Rick Moody does his usual Rick Moody dance in an essay on Lazarus of Bethany, starting narrow before lavishing us with fascinating tangents that allow him to avoid getting personal. It's like peeling an orange and finding a whole entropic world inside, none of it edible.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Pierce

    I love this annual collection and somehow this one dropped off my reading list (perhaps because I got excited when the 2019 edition arrived). I'm glad I picked it back up because some of the final essays were particularly good. Four favorites in this collection of 24 are: Steven Harvey, “The Other Steve Harvey” from Michigan Quarterly Review Leslie Jamison, “The March on Everywhere” from Harper’s Magazine Adam Shatz, “No Direction Home: The Journey of Frantz Fanon” from Raritan Baron Wormser, “Hanna I love this annual collection and somehow this one dropped off my reading list (perhaps because I got excited when the 2019 edition arrived). I'm glad I picked it back up because some of the final essays were particularly good. Four favorites in this collection of 24 are: Steven Harvey, “The Other Steve Harvey” from Michigan Quarterly Review Leslie Jamison, “The March on Everywhere” from Harper’s Magazine Adam Shatz, “No Direction Home: The Journey of Frantz Fanon” from Raritan Baron Wormser, “Hannah Arendt in New York” from Solstice

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emily Green

    I read The Best American Essays 2018 in part because I enjoy reading the best American series, but more because I wanted to teach an essay to my students. I was not overly impressed by the anthology. Some of the essays were just plain boring. I suppose that is part of the excitement of the best American series—some are great and some are so sad. Usually, there are at least a few that I enjoy and a few were pretty interesting, but there aren’t any that I would relish rereading.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jim Manis

    I've read every edition of The Best American Essays, but this one didn't quite ring my bell as loudly as previous editions have. Some criticism has focused on the publication's attempt to display more diversity. This doesn't bother me at all. I can't quite place my finger on the problem. Thus I'm reduced to a series of clichés. I've read every edition of The Best American Essays, but this one didn't quite ring my bell as loudly as previous editions have. Some criticism has focused on the publication's attempt to display more diversity. This doesn't bother me at all. I can't quite place my finger on the problem. Thus I'm reduced to a series of clichés.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eileen

    I usually get to this collection much earlier in the year, but it took me longer to get through this set. Good thing I'm done though, as I have pre-ordered 2019's which comes out in October. ***½ this year for me. Definitely some standouts, and some were harder to get through. But I'm always glad I took the time to read this collection. I usually get to this collection much earlier in the year, but it took me longer to get through this set. Good thing I'm done though, as I have pre-ordered 2019's which comes out in October. ***½ this year for me. Definitely some standouts, and some were harder to get through. But I'm always glad I took the time to read this collection.

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Modica

    My favorites: Hilton Als' "Introduction;" Marilyn Abildskov, "The Trick: Notes Toward a Theory of Plot;" Heidi Julavits, "The Art at the End of the World;" Jennifer Kabat, "Rain Like Cotton;" David Wong Louie, "Eat, Memory;" Rick Moody, "Notes on Lazarus;" Kathryn Schultz, "Losing Streak." My favorites: Hilton Als' "Introduction;" Marilyn Abildskov, "The Trick: Notes Toward a Theory of Plot;" Heidi Julavits, "The Art at the End of the World;" Jennifer Kabat, "Rain Like Cotton;" David Wong Louie, "Eat, Memory;" Rick Moody, "Notes on Lazarus;" Kathryn Schultz, "Losing Streak."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gena Radcliffe

    A much more dry and academic collection than in years past, with a couple reading almost like grad school papers. The more personal ones (David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory" in particular) make it worth a read, though. A much more dry and academic collection than in years past, with a couple reading almost like grad school papers. The more personal ones (David Wong Louie's "Eat, Memory" in particular) make it worth a read, though.

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