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The Best American Essays 2008 (Best American Essays)

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  389 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
Here you will find the finest essays “judiciously selected from countless publications” (Chicago Tribune), ranging from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Swink and Pinch. In his introduction to this year’s edition, Adam Gopnik finds that great essays have “text and inner text, personal story and larger point, the thing you’re supposed to be paying attention to and some other ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published October 8th 2008 by Mariner Books
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Community Reviews

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Jul 01, 2009 Tyler rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
The Best
- Atul Gawande's "The Way We Age Now"
- Sam Shaw's "Run Like Fire Once More"
- Charles Simic's "The Renegade"

Other Highlights
- Adam Gopnik's introduction
- Rich Cohen's "Becoming Adolf"
- Anthony Lane's "Candid Camera"
- Jonathan Lethem's "The Ecstasy of Influence"
- Louis Menand's "Notable Quotables"
- Hugh Raffles' "Cricket Fighting"
- John Updike's "Extreme Dinosaurs"
- Joe Wenderoth's "Where God Is Glad"

Full disclosure: I stopped reading Emily R. Grosholz's "On Necklaces" after these two sent
Dec 29, 2008 Elise rated it liked it
It is exceedingly difficult to rate an anthology with any more than three stars, because almost inevitably there will be some essays I love and some I despise (or rather, that bore me so to death that I don't even dignify them with a complete read). And when you average out love and despise you get 2.5, and then have to rate it a 3.

Regardless, this is worth a read, as "The Best" series of all types are every year. I particularly enjoyed the essays that leaned more toward the personal and emotio
I thought this was a pretty disappointing effort this year. But this may simply be a reflection of the fact that Adam Gopnik gets on my last nerve. His meandering, pretentious introduction is a painful reminder of just how much David Foster Wallace's brilliance, wit, and low tolerance for bullshit will be missed (DFW was last year's editor).

Really slim pickings this year. I'd break it down roughly as follows.

Anthony Lane on the Leica camera;
Hugh Raffles on cricket fighting in Shangha
"The breath of things as they are, I think, runs through these pages, and all of the writers included achieve what Dr. Johnson said was the essayists' only real ambition: to be masters of our common life." p. xxiii

I couldn't include a quote from just one of these twenty essays. First of all, it had taken me six months to finish this collection, so some essays were fresher in my brain than others. And then, how would I pick? These twenty essays were considered the best of the year. They were all
Jan 11, 2009 James rated it liked it
Adam Gopnik sets out three "chief kinds of essays being written these days" in his introduction: the review essay, the memoir essay, and the "odd-object" essay. This last type of essay takes up far too much space in the collection he's edited. Some are good: Lee Zacharias' essay on vultures was fascinating and explored the subject from practically every perspective, from the historical to the personal. Many were dull, though, like Emily Grosholz's lame "On Necklaces" or Albert Goldbarth's essay ...more
Oct 09, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
There are some really great essays in this years collection. It's funny, I didn't feel like any of the essays blew me away while I was reading them, but now that I look back on them, I can't help but think that my life would be a little duller if I hadn't read them. Some highlights include how Rich Cohen's "Becoming Adolf," which will change the way you look at the Hitler-stache, Atul Gawande's "How We Age Now" -- Gawande's ability to convey complex medical issues to a non-medically trained audi ...more
Debbie Howell
Nov 19, 2014 Debbie Howell rated it liked it
I'm a fan of essays, and reading this was a good way to sample various authors. Adam Gopnik's intro was an excellent reflection on the nature of essays, observing that "the essayist's end is achieved not so much by argument as by asserting the facts of actual experience: this is what it feels like to be alive right now, whatever it's supposed to feel like, or however nice it would be to feel some other way."

Unfortunately, after loving the intro, I was mostly disappointed in the actual essays. T
May 31, 2009 Craig rated it really liked it
Maybe it's primacy in the book allowed for an easier impression, but Patricia Brieschke's brief and very moving essay tore at my soul. I don't usually give in so easily to supposedly facile ploys at emotional impacts such as children, the elderly, the sick, the dying, etc. but I did with this one. It is a kernal of goodness. This does not diminish the other varied and very interesting essays that followed. I laughed out loud reading Rich Cohen's exploration of Hitler's infamous lip curtain and e ...more
Nov 30, 2009 Steph rated it liked it
The Way We Age Now - Atul Gawande
Aging scares me. This personal fear—perhaps even more than my love for them or any sense of duty—has driven a preoccupation with how I’d like to care for, or see my parents cared for, if and when they need it. It’s about self-worth and independence as we age, I think.

An overview, for me, of geriatric care, this piece is a perfect jumping off point to delve into the matter further. My connection to a piece often has to do with the writer and I’m on
Jul 08, 2009 Roxanne rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
There were some really amazing pieces in this collection, and some that didn't really reach me.

My favorites were Rich Cohen's mustache essay (possibly the best last line in the book), Atul Gawande's essay about aging, Sam Shaw's piece about the transcendent runners, Lauren Slater's essay about summer camp (what a perceptive eye she casts on her childhood! I would love to have such clarity of hindsight), and Lee Zacharias's vulture essay.

Solid, but not my favorites: Patricia Brieschke and Berna
Sep 09, 2009 Christine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
I signed up for Creative Nonfiction, not because I was particularly interested in essay writing, but because it was the only graduate workshop class the university where I work was offering this semester. This book was the first thing we were assigned to read, and it was like being struck by lightening. So THIS is creative nonfiction! So THIS is brilliance! So THIS is beauty, pain, hysterical humor, connections between life and death and everything in between!

After reading these awesome, amazin
Feb 22, 2011 Jim rated it really liked it
The Best American Essays series are stellar. This particular edition is edited by Adam Gopnik. Previous edition editors have included Joyce Carol Oates, David Foster Wallace, Ian Frazier, Susan Sontag, Annie Dillard, and Gay Talese (quite a list!).

I've read superb essays by Rick Moody, Lauren Slater, and Jonathan Lethem.

Slater's essay was interesting in that she writes about a summer camp experience at Tripp Lake, which is about 20 miles from my house. Slater is typical of the kind of talented w
Dayna Smith
Jun 14, 2014 Dayna Smith rated it really liked it
A selection of great writing representing magazines such as Harper's, The New Yorker, Swink, Pinch and others; by authors including David Sedaris, John Updike, Lauren Slater, Anthony Lane, Charles Simic, and many more. Simic looks at the history of his native Serbia, Sedaris's hilarious look at growing up in a home where history was not as respected as he would have liked is a gem, and Slater recounts a summer spent at camp. This is just a sampling of the great essay writing found in this book. ...more
Dec 28, 2010 Brian rated it liked it
A few days after finishing this one, Atul Guwande's essay on aging still stands out in my mind. I'd recommend anyone grab a copy at the library to read that essay, and skip through for others of interest.

I'd have preferred the Jim McManus essay on poker listed in the notable section at the back to a couple of the essays actually included in the collection, but perhaps Gopnik is more a fan of Leica cameras than card games. We can disagree on which is more interesting to either of us personally.
Aug 07, 2012 Brittany rated it really liked it
Shelves: unfinished
I originally just picked it up for Solipsism and then David Sedaris, but now I feel compelled to read the whole thing.

Update 9/4: I only read the first three and a half essays, Solipsism, and David Sedaris's piece before I decided to return it to the library because it was due today anyway. The first essay was really good. Solipsism was disappointing. Sedaris is pretty cool. The Hitler Mustache one was weirdly good. The HIV one was like one giant cliff-hanger (did he die or not?!?). The one I ha
Jun 04, 2015 Jessica rated it liked it
The first essay of this collection, "Cracking Open" by Patricia Brieschke, was published in a low prestige journal (PMS) and puts all the other, more predictable New Yorker essays to shame. The one exception is Ariel Levy's "The Lesbian Bride's Handbook" which is written in such a strong, confident, yet vulnerable voice. I'm looking forward to reading more recent Best American Essay collections to see if the tyranny of men at the New Yorker has loosened somewhat in recent years.
Oct 07, 2008 Rob rated it really liked it
I've only read the first two and am currently into Albert Goldbarth's Everybody's Nickname. From what I can see, in this year's collection Adam Gopnik has really carefully chosen essays that are not only well-crafted but highly entertaining and progressive visions into the future of the essay, what I suppose are products of these "creative non-fiction" classes. Regardless, I'm having a blast reading this one.
Mark Flanagan
Feb 08, 2009 Mark Flanagan rated it really liked it
I wasn't sure I was even going to read this collection, but Adam Gopnik's introduction sucked me in. Semi-committed, I proceeded to get bowled over by Patricia Brieschke's essay, which was perhaps the saddest thing I've ever read, and then righted again by humor with Richard Cohen's essay about the Hitler/toothbrush mustache. A great collection overall. [full review ]
Apr 13, 2009 Terry rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is probably the best "Best American Essays" collection I have read (out of the few I've read). The earlier editions I have read tended to drift toward the same content (dogs; being young in New York). I just found this particular collection intellectually challenging, in a good way; each essay is dense (and I mean that as a compliment) and thought-provoking. It's like chewing on a particularly authentic French bread slice rather than Wonder Bread.
Jan 28, 2009 Leif rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes current essays on a variety of subjects
Some really great essays in here, along with some so-so ones and one I couldn't stand ("Everybody's Nickname," which I really should have loved if the writer had not been so gimmicky). I am teaching from the book this semester, and so far we are really enjoying dicsussing and debating it. Tomorrow we discuss "The Ecstacy of Influence," which is a challenging (both in difficulty and terms of preconceptions) essay about originality and plagiarism.
Dec 26, 2008 Scott rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays
There were a few essays in here that I really liked, but for the most part I was unimpressed and a little bored. Part of this is undoubtedly the mere fact that I prefer short stories to essays, but I feel very strongly that writing should be entertaining (or, at least, interesting and compelling), regardless of the medium, content, and purpose.
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Jan 03, 2009 Jonna Higgins-Freese rated it did not like it
As usual with these, I thought the quality was uneven -- or at least my interest was. But there are always a few absolute gems. One was "The Constant Gardener" about a man who learns to maintain a PICC line to give TPN to his dying partner. It was absolutely beautiful in its weaving of medical and personal, and even had a few moments of humor.
Oct 10, 2008 Ryan rated it liked it
Really enjoyed the essays by Rich Cohen, Bernard Cooper, Atul Gawande, Jonathan Lethem, David Sedaris, Lauren Slater and Joe Wenderoth. The rest were less impressive, and a few were unfinishable. That's an anthology though, I suppose. The Sedaris and Cooper pieces were particularly strong--especially considering these writers are already reliable.
Oct 11, 2008 Alissa rated it really liked it
Wait--you mean that John Updike's contribution is by far the weakest in the collection, yet it's there anyway?? Weird.
Aside from his mediocre essay on dinosaurs, though, everything else is really, really good. And Adam Gopnik's introduction is one of the most succinct and smartest pieces on essay writing that I've ever read.
May 25, 2009 Joan added it
Not the best of the series, though not the worst, either. I enjoyed Bernard Cooper ("The Constant Gardener," about taking care of his ailing partner), and Albert Goldbarth on the Leica camera. Especially interesting was Jonathan Lethem on influences in writing. But most the others are forgettable, and a couple too boring to finish.
Oct 13, 2008 Christina rated it liked it
Recommended to Christina by: Patrick Madden
Not the best collection of creative essays I've read. A few really good ones, though. I'd recommed "This Old House," by David Sedaris, "Becoming Adolf," by Rich Cohen, and simply for the ingenuity of it, "The Ecstasy of Influence," by Jonathan Lethem. Also, if you like personal memoir, "Cracking Open," by Patricia Brieschke is well-written.
Jan 22, 2009 James rated it really liked it
Boy, you sure can tell what kind of essays end up in the annual collection based on the guest editor. Adam Gopnik's picks were fun and mostly light-reading -- not quite like Susan Sontag and David Foster Wallace's picks.
Apr 23, 2009 Tiffany rated it liked it
This collection of essays spanned so many topics that I was frequently outside my own zone of interest. They're all well-written, though occasionally a little too ... literary ... for my taste. I especially enjoyed "The Lesbian Bride's Handbook," while "The Constant Gardener" was heartbreaking.
Dec 12, 2008 Vanessa rated it liked it
This essay collection was a bit of a let-down this year. Usually I enjoy the majority of the essays, but I had to pass over many. The sparse amount of good ones at least made it enjoyable. Hopefully next year's choices are better.
Nov 14, 2009 Plwest rated it really liked it
I look forward to this collection of essays every year. I read them over the Thanksgiving weekend. They bring me to my knees. How I learn about the world, besides watching Southpark, is through the Best American Essays series.
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An American writer, essayist and commentator. He is best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker—to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism—and as the author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon, an account of the half-decade that Gopnik, wife Martha, and son Luke spent in the capital of France.
More about Adam Gopnik...

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