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The Best American Essays 2014

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  685 ratings  ·  94 reviews
“A creature from an alternative universe . . . wanting to understand what is on the American mind should rush to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy of this distinguished anthology . . . Exhilarating.” — Publishers Weekly

The Best American Essays 2014 is selected and introduced by John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of  the critically acclaimed essay collection Pulphead. The Ne
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2014)
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Martina Litty Gornick recounts a number of scenes, experiences, and interactions, with lots of dialogue and some internal reflection, in order to show the reader he…moreGornick recounts a number of scenes, experiences, and interactions, with lots of dialogue and some internal reflection, in order to show the reader her life and relationships.

She names several friends in this essay, some who come up more than once and some who are only brought up the one time, but she consistently brings up Leonard in order to remind the reader that he’s important to the theme. She also opens and closes the essay with Leonard in order to fully circle around.

Times when I wanted to stop reading were when she got into really specific details about New York, whether it was geographically or people’s personalities or where she was going. It was difficult for me to fully understand/imagine what she was describing.

I kept reading because I was intrigued by the (at first) seemingly haphazard memories and scenes strewn throughout the piece and I was curious about what was going to tie everything together in the end. (less)

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Nov 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
Before you read this collection of essays, ask yourself what you are expecting. Personally, I was looking for ingenious thought and wisdom. And, perhaps, insight and understanding of peoples unlike me. If you are a budding essayist trying to get a pulse on what publishers are looking for in personal essays today, then you had better start living on the fringe or be extremely frank about your sex life or grow up with violence or abuse, or be obsessive. Oh, and do drugs. If you’re “normal” and jus ...more
Jen Hirt
Nov 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I like to look for trends in award-winning nonfiction, and my my, aren't there some trends in this edition. Two essays feature well-known male nonfiction writers revealing that they were childhood victims of sexual abuse (Barry Lopez and Chris Offutt). Two essays are "Letters from" places in NYC, with their titles actually using the "Letter From" format. Two are the tried-and-true gambit of "skeptical writer goes on assignment to report on a bizarre subculture, hilarity ensues" (Leslie Jamison a ...more
Nov 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I order this every year, and generally I hunt and peck at the collection. Checking them off as I go and maybe I read the whole collection, maybe not. This year, thanks to a round trip flight this week, I read the collection strait through, and enjoyed it thoroughly. The collection this year was a good one for me. I am a different, and I hope, larger person because of many essays I've read in this series over the years. I cannot guarantee the same results for everyone, but the authors I find here ...more
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Rarely do I sit down and read an entire anthology of short stories or essays such as The Best American Essays collections. I have flipped through different selections in the past, choosing to read the authors I was most familiar with, or the stories or essays that have attracted me from the first sentence. I found, however, that to sit down and read an entire collection is to have the opportunity to bathe in different pools of water—cool and refreshing.

The Best American Essays series has been an
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book provided a strange reading experience: Sullivan's intro is weirdly scholarly, especially in contrast to the essays he selected, which are very personal. Of the volume's nine initial essays, I'd read again only Kristin Dombek's "Letter from Williamsburg" (which, as far as I can tell, has little to do with anything epistolary); it is again quite personal and--for BAEs-- rather racy (though not regrettably so). The remaining twelve essays are much stronger than the first several; eight of ...more
Loved seven, liked eight, DNF six. This is usually the case with most Best American compilations - whether they be essays mysteries, short stories, or non-required reading. As usual, it is so hard to figure out how to rate these anthologies because just as I did not finish six of them, it obviously doesn’t negate from the other 15. So those 15 is what I’m rating.

My favorite essay in the book is Barry Lopez’s “Sliver of Sky” that is about his horrific experience at the hands of a pedophile who, c
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
As a perennial reader of this annual series, I look forward to its publication every October to discover interesting thoughts, ideas and, well, essays. But this year's volume arrived as the least satisfying one in the series. Little here connected with me.

Robert Atwan, in his foreword, lamented the increasing use of "trigger warnings" at colleges. Atwan, the series editor, noted that these new alerts warn students about material that may upset them. That was interesting. One essayist in here mus
May 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
After a slow start and an outrageously boring opening essay by John Jeremiah Sullivan, this had several great entries:

~At 65, Emily Fox Gordon
~Letter from Greenwich Village, Vivian Gornick
~Sliver of Sky, Barry Lopez
~Someone Else, Chris Offutt (I’ll be tracking down his short stories)
~Little X, Elizabeth Tallent (great evocation of childhood)
~The Old Man at Burning Man, Wells Tower (although this doesn’ t beat the festival essay American Juggalo in last year’s Pushcart Prize anthology)
~How to Mak
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting collection that I read straight through for the Read Harder Challenge. Although it is arranged alphabetically, there is a rhythm to it. The middle descends into despair but there are laughs toward the end.

The first few women included talk about nonconformist sex acts, and I wondered is that what it takes to be noticed as a woman writer? Whether by the editor or the selection committee or indeed the publishing industry? Other women who wrote about other topics are included--but the
Oct 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.

Last year it was all about divorced self absorption and the shadow of dead parents. What’s the theme this year, eh? Guest editor John Jeremiah Sullivan launches the book* with the hardline stance of the granddaddy-of-all-essays Michel de Montaigne: by examining oneself, one can examine all humanity.

And this is how the essays tie to one another. A writer investigates something — say, the burning man festival, child abuse, or a rare disease — and ex
Jan 09, 2015 rated it liked it
I usually love reading these anthologies but I found most of the essays uninteresting and very forgettable. There were some good ones, though.

At Sixty-five (Emily Fox Gordon), was a very thoughtful reflection on aging. Letter from Greenwich Village (Vivian Gornick), was a great story beginning with a once-a-week meeting between the author and Crazy Leonard then continuing to explore everyday life on the streets of Manhattan.

The best essay by far was The Devil’s Bait (Lisa Jamison), which was a
Whitney Archibald
I look forward to this book every year for a smorgasbord of great writing, fresh ideas, and diverse topics. This year, not so much. Individually, there were still some beautiful essays in here. But I just felt like it was the same thing over and over again -- way too many personal essays. I'm usually a fan of personal essays, but after this collection I just felt burdened by all the different and profound ways humans can suffer. Plus, the edgier content fell way over the ledge for me.

On a brigh
Benjamin Fowler
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Another great edition with a great introduction by the guest editor. This series has been a yearly read for me since I was introduced in 2003.
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Very disappointing after last last year's selections. ...more
Sullivan's aesthetic is definitely reflected here. If you've read his collection many of the themes will be familiar. I was surprised by a few essays here. My favorite was How to Make a Slave by Jerald Walker. Many of the essays were depressing and there was a strange emphasis on childhood sexual abuse, and death. Overall, I'm glad I read it. I always enjoy a mix of essays. ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although any of these collections is a mixed bag, this collection had many more essays that resonated with me than the usual.
Richard Anderson
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mostly fine group of essays.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Of course, not ALL of the essays I found appealing, but that's the fun part about a compendium, lots of new voices to hear and stories to experience. ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Each guest editor of any given BAE puts her fingerprints on the curated collection, and while generally one can expect at least one essay by a brand name for the sake of marketing (e.g. there always seems to be a Zadie Smiff essay in every recent BAE, and her essay is always one of the three weakest #haterade), there are often a good mix of memoir from big magazines and top tier small presses alike. Over the past twenty years there has been a trend away from journalistic-y magazine-y essay-thing ...more
Brad Hodges
Apr 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing

"Also in store are recurring nightmares, obsessive behavior, the fears and anxieties of aging, suicide, and--as they say in those infomercials--a whole lot more," heralds Robert Alwan, series editor of The Best American Essays 2014. Indeed, this selection, narrowed down by John Jeremiah Sullivan, does tilt toward the dark side. There are two essays, one by Barry Lopez and another by Chris Offut, that detail their childhood abuse at the hands of a pedophile. By accident of the alphabet, these ess
Ray Zimmerman
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Best American Essays, 2014
Reviewed by Ray Zimmerman

The fire dancers retreat. The drill-chuck-mansion pedestal goes up in a great pumping beefheart of flame. My father sits in a rain of cinders as big as playing cards, more than sufficient to ignite the infant wisps of his remaining hair. Unconcerned, he gawps at the flames. The danger is unreal to him, or not as important as the splendid inferno before him. – Wells Tower, “The Old Man at Burning Man”

Tower’s essay, quoted above, is not typica
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Per usual, this Best Of collection has some pieces that are very moving, some that are a bit more tepid, and a few that are drop dead amazing. All of them are well written. Even though I typically like John Jeremiah Sullivan's writing, I didn't make it through his introduction (which is about the appearance of the word "essayist" in english), but I did find a fair amount to enjoy in the rest of the collection. Here were my favorites:

Strange Beads by Wendy Brenner
Letter from Greenwich Village by
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
What a disappointment. I've read a bunch of these from different years and this is by far the worst. Even with one of my favorite writers (Zadie Smith) included (hers was great though).

It starts off horrendous and gets better. Robert Atwan's forward made me quite upset. It's the ramblings of an old man, which was tolerable up until he started talking about trigger warnings.

I am someone who benefits from trigger warnings. Giving me the power to be in a safe space when I read about rape let's me r
Billie Pritchett
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bae
I read The Best American Essays 2014 collection over the better part of a year, and so frankly I can't remember what I think about the collection as a whole. So as I'm writing this, I'm looking back over the table of contents and flipping through the Kindle version to see what resonates. I remember the first essay, Timothy Aubry's "A Matter of Life and Death." I don't remember the second essay, Wendy Brenner's "Strange Beads," but the only note I wrote in this section, apart from some highlighti ...more
Dec 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-fail-20
If this is the "best" collection from a year's production of our essayists of the whole country, then there may be legitimate reasons for despair. But I suspect the selection process is slanted with a particular subject-matter and style combination. It is painful to read this collection along with any of Montaigne's Essays. One's viewpoint shrunk to moldy dots of self-concerns --scabby, grubby, and even diseased -- and hence microscopic without illumination.

Abandoned at 25% reading marks.

*** R
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
If you read essays to learn about a new subject or to look at things in a different way, this may not be the collection for you. This year's Best American Essays are all about the individual, very inward looking. Death looms large, in essays about getting old or one's parents getting old, one about the death of a newborn, the sudden death of a wife, and suicide. The non-death related essays delve into child abuse and enemies.

There are a few essays that lighten the mood, somewhat. Wendy Brenner f
Heather Thomson
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Guest editor John Jeremiah Sullivan's Introduction to this anthology was particularly clever as he tracked the history of the word "essayist" in English and established astounding literary connections. Bringing us back to the basics, Sullivan reminds us that the essay is rooted in Montaigne. Series editor Robert Atwan in his Foreword curiously argues against the growing trend of creating "trigger warnings" for sensitive content in literature. Yet, he provides his own warning-of-sorts (which has ...more
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays
This collection was a disappointment. I, and I'd assume most readers, come to a collection like this looking for a variety of excellent works. This year's editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, picked some excellent works, but they sorely lacked variety. Out of all the wonderful types of essays, this collection featured personal trauma memoirs to the exclusion of all else. Some were awesome, such as Leslie Jamison's essay on Morgellan's disease and Ariel Levy's "Thanksgiving in Mongolia," which I've re ...more
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love reading the Best American Essays for each year--in particular I love how each guest editor interprets what makes an essay the best. As an essayist myself, I like to see the editor pull from a variety of sources, feature a diversity of voices, and a diversity of essay forms and styles. Sullivan did a decent job of giving the essay a broad platform and I enjoyed most of the essays he selected. I did notice a common theme in many of the essays--a noticeable majority, almost all of the essays ...more
Kathy Leland
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
These collections are always somewhat of a risk in that your own sensibilities of what constitutes great non-fiction may not mesh with those of that year's editor. In this case, John Jeremiah Sullivan and I are definitely not on the same page. I am at a loss as to why most of these selections were chosen other than the "name appeal" of the authors. The collection is heavy on memoir pieces that are not carefully crafted and which often seem more like journal entries. Three pieces are personal acc ...more
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John Jeremiah Sullivan is an American writer and editor. He is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine, and southern editor of The Paris Review.

Sullivan's first book, Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, was published in 2004. It is part personal reminiscence, part elegy for his father, and part investigation into the history and cul

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  Here at Goodreads, we've noticed that a funny thing tends to happen when we start talking about audiobooks: The same few titles get...
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“I’ve come to think that one reason for the oppressive predictability of polemical essays can be found in today’s polarized social and political climate. To paraphrase Emerson: “If I know your party, I anticipate your argument.” Not merely about politics but about everything. Clearly this acrimonious state of affairs is not conducive to writing essays that display independent thought and complex perspectives. Most of us open magazines, newspapers, and websites knowing precisely what to expect. Many readers apparently enjoy being members of the choir. In our rancorously partisan environment, conclusions don’t follow from premises and evidence but precede them.” 3 likes
“What harm is done by that commonplace word? What distinctions will not, cannot be drawn where enemy holds sway? Is the concept “enemy” the enemy of clear thought, therefore of justice? What is gained by its invocation? Perhaps as important, what is lost?” 1 likes
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