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The Best American Essays 2011 (Best American Essays)

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  595 ratings  ·  86 reviews
The Best American Series
First, Best, and Best-Selling

The Best American series is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume’s series editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites . A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field, then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish.
Kindle Edition, 275 pages
Published October 4th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,223)
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Maureen Stanton
This edition is misnamed: there are two actual "essays" in the collection (Iyer, and Zadie Smith's excellent, thought provoking piece), two short "lyrical essasy" (Church, Purpura) and the rest are memoirs, some standouts (Katy Butler's piece about her aged father lingering in poor health and kept alive by a pacemaker) and Charlie LeDuff's piece on a killing in Detroit that is a synecdoche for all the woes of that city, though I'd call this piece literary journalism cum memoir). The rest are mos ...more
I gave this anthology 3 stars, which is a so-so grade for me. There are some fine essays like Pico Iyer's reflection on the need to meditate, cut oneself off from the world, and reflect and Reshma Memon Yaqub's startling and informative account of washing a corpse per Islamic custom. And there are funny essays, like Christy Vannoy's spoof on essays called "A Personal Essay by a Personal Essay," but then there are a lot of essays here that deserve Vannoy's satirical treatment.

The criteria for thi
Hilton Als - Buddy Ebsen - 1*
Mischa Berlinski - Port-au-Prince: The Moment - 2*
Katy Butler - What Broke My Father's Heart - 5*
Steven Church - Auscultation - 4*
Paul Crenshaw - After the Ice - 3*
Toi Derricotte - Beds - 5*
Meenakshi Gigi Durham - Grieving - 5*
Bernadette Esposito - A-LOC - 2*
Christopher Hitchens - Topic of Cancer - 5*
Pico Iyer - Chapels - 4*
Victor LaValle - Long Distance - 5*
Charlie LeDuff - What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones - 3*
Chang-Rae Lee - Magical Dinners - 3*
Madge McKeithen - Wh
Grady McCallie
I found this one of the most moving entries in the Best American Essays series. Editor Edwidge Danticat writes in her introduction that "the stories we dare tell others about ourselves...can also totally strip us bare, reducing (or expanding) the essence of everything we are to words." Danticat's editorial filter sharply favors essays that exercise this power.

As a result, this entry shows the narrowest stylistic range that I can recall in this series. Most of the essays are deeply personal, auto
Gina R. Evers

I picked this up to see if it might function as a supplemental reader in my college writing class. A few essays -- "What Broke My Father's Heart," in particular -- are excellent examples of how a personal quest can be transformed into an academic essay through the incorporation of research. The collection also showcases a variety of tools used by the writers to develop their ideas. I'm thinking here of development through narrative, analogy, reiteration, problem and solution, etc. I have decide
Particularly memorable essays for me were Christopher Hitchens on cancer, Katy Butler on her parents' decline, Rachel Riederer on being run over by a bus, and Zadie Smith on Facebook etc. But regardless of how I ultimately feel about the editor's selections, I have never put down a Best American anything and felt sorry for having spent those hours reading that book.
Wide selection of topics and authors. "Grieving" details the process of contesting denial for tenure and it is the official eponymous term for that process. "A-LOC" intersperses the author's fear of flying with her participation in a simulated crash and emergency team response for the purpose of practice for those involved. "Chapels" is a beautiful reflection by Pico Iyer on our need for quiet and remove from the world to fully be. "Patient" is a description of a college student's accident -- be ...more
Larry Buhl
Approx. four out of five essays are great. Not all are essays in the traditional sense. Some are more memoir, some experimental, some more journalistic. Many have to do with loss and death, always fertile themes. Standouts are:

- Tropic of Cancer, Christopher Hitchens' account of his cancer diagnosis
- Generation Why, about how Facebook is increasing triviality and meaninglessness of modern life
- What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones, about the death of a young black girl and how it relates to the dyst
Vince Darcangelo

Christopher Hitchens, "Topic of Cancer"
RIP Hitch: the man right up to the end

Charlie LeDuff, "What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?"
One of the greatest articles I've ever read, and a sharp-witted, merciless account of modern Detroit--this is a must-read

Victor Lavalle, "Long Distance"
About as smart a piece on perversion and body image (and phone sex) you'll ever read

Meenakshi Gigi Durham, "Grieving"
Thoughtful investigation of how work (and the lack thereof) informs our identity

Bernadette Esposi
Very, very well-curated collection of essays. A mix of different types but even the informative essays are very human and personal ("What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?" is a great example of that). Katy Butler's essay "What Broke My Father's Heart" is deeply moving while Christy Vannoy's "A Personal Essay by Personal Essay" is humorous but in the way that makes you wonder if you ought to be laughing (I think we ought). Zadie Smith has a great essay about "The Social Network" movie, titled "Genera ...more
Standouts here: Katy Butler, Toi Derricotte, Christopher Hitchens, Madge McKeithen, Paul Crenshaw, and Charlie LeDuff. LeDuff's essay in particular is startling and memorable.

Only misstep is Meenakshi Gigi Durham's "Grieving," which argues that identity is so wrapped up in occupation that job loss is a kind of death. Promising premise, executed poorly through the story of her husband being denied tenure (though he eventually is granted it.) The writer works overtime to convince us that this trag
I read the ones that caught my eye, and especially enjoyed Mischa Berlinski's "Port-au-Prince: The Moment", Christopher Hickens' "Topic of Cancer",and Zadie Smith's "Generation Why?". The latter was like a shot of adrenaline,her writing is so razor sharp and clever. Hickens' is an essay on his fatal diagnosis, admirable in its simplicity, nearly noble. The writer Mischa Berlinski was working on his novel in his bungalow office in Port-au-Prince when the quake hit: "My chair was on casters and be ...more
I got so frustrated with this anthology, I couldn't read all the essays. I'd start one, realize it was once again about something depressing or disturbing, and skip to the next one only to find more of the same. Is there a rule that essays as a genre have to cover only the traumas and hardships of life? I get it that the literary world feeds on this kind of thing, but in an anthology you'd think they could mix it up a little more. Child abuse, cancer, airplane crashes, murders, ENOUGH. No more e ...more
Jen Hirt
My two favorites: "What Broke My Father's Heart," by Katy Butler, and "Ascultation" by Steven Church. Butler's essay covers familiar territory -- our for-profit medical system takes her ailing father down many wrong roads -- but what makes her essay different, and better, is the calm tone of explanation. But she's far from calm -- she and her mother are outraged and desperate, two details that come through in dialogue and scene, which is hard to do well in nonfiction. Church's essay is ten level ...more
A Christmas gift I was so eager to begin reading... now I am four or five essays along and wondering if the only way an essay can qualify as one of the "best" is to be profoundly sad or disturbing. Hooray for the writing of deep hurts, but ixnay to a world-- or even an afternoon's reading-- where that is all there is. Perhaps instead of arranging the essays alphabetically by author they could have been graded according to how likely they are to induce suicidal ideations in readers, and arranged ...more
Laura Lawless
I found some essays more interesting than others. I particularly liked "What Broke My Father's Heart," as it touched on some of the same thoughts I've had concerning my health as I grow older.

I watched my mother go through treatment after treatment for various illnesses since I was in high school. Though I am grateful her life was extended so she could be with us until 2009, I also watched her quality of life decline. She was in a state of almost constant physical and emotional suffering those
OK, this edition of The Best American Essays was tailor-made for me. I started to read and thought, hmmmm, a lot of these essays are about death. I kept reading, more death. Got to the end, even more death. So ironic that I read this as I continue working on another draft of my memoir which is, you guessed it, about death.

I think as a society we don't get a lot of insights into death; it's one of those topics we like to keep quiet (cf. my review of The Grief of Others). Bravo to Edwidge Danticat
Disappointing as a collection of Best Essays. Maybe 2 of the 24 were actual, somewhat thought-provoking, essays. One was a spoof on personal essays, a couple were written by poets and somewhat confusing in that poem-stretched-into-prose way, and the rest were plain old depressing memoirs. Death, child abuse, dismemberment, disaster. The one time I found myself discussing an "essay" with my spouse it felt like gossip. "So I'm reading about this 350 lb guy and how he finds sex..." And I'll go ahea ...more
Jeff Lacy
An enlightening collection but inconsistent. Appealing to this reader was Katy Butler's state of geriatric medicine in her essay, "What Broke My Father's Heart." Paul Crenshaw's essay, "After the Ice," described powerfully shaken baby syndrome abuse and the pathology that would lead a person to physically abuse an eighteen-month-old toddler. Similarly included was an essay by a son who describes his relationship with his father who used a belt to punish him, and the son/writer's meditation on wh ...more
Michelle Prendergast
I'm disconcerted that other reviews seem to think the narrative (or memoir) mode of writing can't be categorized as an essay. Many of these essays make this collection a true representation of the cross- sections of American life from lessons about how to die with dignity in a society that promotes undergoing extraordinary measures to continue life (without accounting for quality of life) to analyzing the motivations of Zuckerberg and the effects his Facebook world has on our generation. I also ...more
What Broke My Father's Heart- Katy Butler
Auscultation- Steven Church
After the Ice- Paul Crenshaw
Topic of Cancer- Christopher Hitchens
Long Distance- Victor LaValle
What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones? Charlie LeDuff
Generation Why?- Zadie Smith
When confronted with a collection of the "Best" American essays, there's really little for a reviewer to do other than quibble over which are the bestest. (After all, editor Danticat is hardly going to lob us a softball by including a real stinker.) For my money, the bestest here are Katy Butler's excrutiating "What Broke My Father's Heart" and Zadie Smith's equally but far differently incredible "Generation Why?", though there's hardly a lack of amazing to choose from - authors cover topics in ...more
I liked this collection a lot because of the variety of not only voices, but especially styles. I could see a purist expressing this as a fault - that some of the prose is tailored to transport you into the throes of imagination, like a piece of fiction, and don't exist as presentations of cut-and-dry editorials. Zadie Smith gave an excellent essay, in the traditional sense, on Facebook. Many were POV style, memoir-esque excerpts, and some even experimental. My favorite discoveries were the like ...more
Not every essay was amazing but many of them were, sometimes because a new subject was illuminated and other times because the writing style was original. Essays that made me think some new thoughts were: Long Distance, about an obese man’s phone sex before he lost weight; Who Killed Jones, about the murders, arson and police corruption in Detroit; Grieving, about a man who was denied tenure then won it through the grievance process; Topic of Cancer, about Christopher Hitchens facing his cancer ...more
The standout in this collection is Katy Butler's "What Broke My Father's Heart" -- an informative reflection on what it took, via the US healthcare maze, to mend Butler's dad's literally broken heart while Butler and her mom worked out the other kinds of brokenness they all felt during the process. There were several essays that were experimental and I didn't mind their quirks. Why not try stretching the format boundaries? The one that annoyed me even though it was so well-written was MG Durham' ...more
Sorayya Khan
I don't usually read collections like this from cover to cover, but that's exactly what I did with Danticat's THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2011. The first four essays were stunning and the collection itself contained several essays that were breathtaking. They range from Paul Crenshaw's ":After the Ice," to Charlie LeDuff's "What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?" to Chang-Rae Lee's "Magical Dinners" to the final essay, Reshma Memon Yaqub's "The Washing". It's impossible to pick a favorite because there ...more
Greg Linster
Most guest editors in "The Best American Essays" series have done a fantastic job curating. In 2011, Edwidge Danticat was no exception. One of the great things about the format of this series is that you are bound to be introduced to some incredible essays; unfortunately, you'll also likely encounter a few that don't quite fit your tastes. As is usually the case with this series, Danticat picked some powerful and moving essays, but I was disappointed with a handful of her other picks as well. Th ...more
I'll be teaching this book this upcoming semester in my English 102 class. I hope my students like the essays. Unfortunately, I'm anticipating some bellyaching as most of the best ones are also quite long--at least, long for them--and will take some actual thought. I do think this book pretty clearly represents the aesthetic of the editor, though, more than other volumes that I've read. This isn't a problem; however, I do think it brings into question the title. Are these really the best essays ...more
Kris Springer
I've read these collections for the past 10 or 15 years now, and I always find my mind stretched, as well as opened to new topics. This collection had more female authors than male authors (1st time I can remember that, which I found refreshing)--the topics written about by women are usually not chosen by men, and as a woman, I appreciate that. Zadie Smith had an excellent essay in this collection, as well as in the 2010 collection, and I'm looking forward to reading her fiction. Reading this co ...more
Excellent collection of essays. Some will haunt me personally for a long time.
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Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beac ...more
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