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The Best American Essays 2008 by Adam Gopnik
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's review
May 06, 09

bookshelves: nonfiction-miscellany
Read in May, 2009

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 on science fiction paperbacks. Necklaces? I don't think any writer could make that subject interesting.

I liked that Gopnik broke the formal conventions of the series by presenting essays with images, and including Ander Monson's weird/great "Solipsism," which is printed broadside. There's a lot of innovation in the collection, despite the narrow parameters for the modern essay the editor writes in his introduction.

I also like that there is a good deal of poets represented: Simic, Monson, Wenderoth, Updike (kind of). Gopnik seems to want to open the series to new voices.

This is the second year in a row I have enjoyed the editor's writing better than his editing/collecting judgment. David Foster Wallace is my gold standard for nonfiction, but the 2007 BAE was dull. This year's is better, but I still would rather read Adam Gopnik than half of the essays in this collection.


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