Kate's Reviews > The Best American Essays 2006

The Best American Essays 2006 by Lauren Slater
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Jul 11, 07

Recommended for: essay nerds
Read in July, 2007

I'm a Best American Essay junkie. I spend all year waiting for the new edition. I read it feverishly and all at once. I take notes in the margins and copy my favorites essays to distribute to other writerly friends. I re-read at least four essays from the collection a dozen times.

Not this year.

I appreciate Lauren Slater's attention to death and dying--we spend a lot of energy in America trying to avoid that unpleasantness: It's gauche to talk about dying. Sickness reeks of weakness and lack of self-will. And getting old is, well, unforgivable.

So I understand Slater's desire to turn our eye to the hard stuff of living, namely dying. I think I would have been moved by many of these essays individually had I come across them in a sea of more mundane information. But collected here, they feel grim. The pile of dead pets and parents, lost mothers and mentors, friends and spouses, left me feeling melancholy and agitated, not to mention entirely filled with dread should I ever get sick myself.

Which brings me to one thing I really *did* appreciate about these essays--the personal renditions of what we publically call the "health care crisis." Both Marjorie Williams in her essay "A Matter of Life and Death" and David Rieff in his essay "Illness as More Than Metaphor" make clear the importance of being important if you're sick--having money and knowing the right people can save your life, or at least give you more time. Their critique of the health care system helps me understand why this is such an important political issue. As a young person unfettered by any sort of terminal illness it's hard to always put my finger on what, exactly, is wrong with healthcare or why my paycheck takes such a hit for the rising costs of insurance. I can tell you I'll be paying better attention after these morality tales.

And, after all my muttering, I will give a shout-out to my three favorites--Emily Bernard for her "Teaching the N-Word", Michele Murano for "Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood" and Sam Pickering for "George."

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