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The Best American Essays 2016

(Best American Essays)

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  439 ratings  ·  75 reviews
A true essay is “something hazarded, not definitive, not authoritative; something ventured on the basis of the author’s personal experience and subjectivity,” writes guest editor Jonathan Franzen in his introduction. However, his main criterion for selecting The Best American Essays 2016 was, in a word, risk. Whether the risks involved championing an unpopular opinion, the ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Mariner Books
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Dec 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Not the best volume of this series I buy without miss every year, not the worst either but on the weaker side. Too much of Franzen's prissy tastes on display here, essays that are hard to read for no good reason and others that pronounce and bloviate their way through a story instead of tell it. In the plus column, a number of essays by writers who work non-academic day jobs (a border agent, a doctor, a sexologist). Do not miss any of those. And Sebastian Junger's piece about PTSD as well as the ...more
Nov 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
Jonathan Franzen, much like Cheryl Strayed, has a vision of the essay as an expulsion of the ‘I’.

I am telling a story about my family.
I am telling a story about my job.
I am telling a story about my sexuality or race.

Franzen further specifies he is looking for ‘intensity’ and ‘risk’, and indeed some of these essays are gripping in their intensity. But, like 2013, it gets repetitive. I like to see essays that explore little-known topics or examine some social phenomena or world events. There’s onl
Reading Cat
Oct 21, 2016 rated it liked it
These books are always more about the editor than the best writing, I've found. They can be amazingly strong, as was last year's, or truly bad (one a few years ago was just incessant essays about death). This the middle.

Many of the essays seem to be faux-edgy (lookit me, using 'fuck!' *yawn*) and the ones that are obviously chosen to push the social justice agenda (disclaimer: I am pro-social justice but anti-shoving-stuff-down-my-throat) are plagued with weak writing. Last year's had a
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nonfiction fans, lovers of the essay format, readers who like to be surprised and challenged
This read was like the very best smorgasbord. There were familiar dishes, challenging flavors, things you never would have thought to mix together but that served up an amazing creation (salamanders and adoption! you have to read it!), and even the desserts were nutritious.

The essays are presented alphabetically by author's last name which makes the ordering random, and yet wonderful juxtapositions can occur. The best is at the very end, with the one-two-three punch of George Steiner's "The Ele
Scott Fishwick
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
What we have here is virtue signaling and identity politics par excellence. Only a couple of these essays cross the line into the land of interesting. I can't believe these are the best American essays of 2016, but, if they are, we are in trouble.
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
My favorites were the stigma-busting Sexual Paranoia by Laura Kipnis and Namesake by Mason Stokes. I also liked My Father and the Wine by Irina Dumitrescu: "Now and then I click a link to find out what the hipsters are up to."
Stew Hutchinson
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am currently reading The Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen. As apart of my AP Language and Composition course we began by annotating and discussing Bajadas, where Francisco Cantú shares his experiences of being a border patrol officer on the Mexican border. I found Cantú's essay to be intriguing as his 20 detailed journal entries engaged the audience, giving us a real sense of what he had to battle both mentality and physically. I found his entries to be puzzling as it was ...more
Josh Bliss
Sep 24, 2017 marked it as to-read
During my AP Language and Composition course, my class was asked to read Bajadas and follow up with a review on it. I have read countless essays throughout my education time period but I have yet to read an essay as intriguing and different than this one. The main character, Francisco Cantú, embarks on a internal fight with himself serving as a border agent in a very dangerous field of work. The major difference with this essay was how he used his writing in a journal style format, with a large ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Although I have only read the first essay of this book, Bajadas, for my AP Language and Composition class, I can tell I am going to enjoy this collection of essays. In this piece by Cantú, he describes his experience of being a border cop in the academy and once he has graduated, through a series of journal entries. The way in which he told this story had a great effect on its message. The journal entries made the story seem more personal and honest. Throughout this essay, Cantú's perspective an ...more
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
BAEs 2013-2016 have all been of similar high quality. Most of the selections are strong and thought-provoking, if not exactly ones I'd read again.

According to my checkmark system (1 for good essays, 2 for great, 3 for mindblowing), this volume contains 9 pieces I'd happily revisit:

1 Checkmark

Francisco Cantú's "Bajadas"
Alexander Chee's "Girl"
Ela Harrison's "My Heart Lies Between 'The Fleet' and 'All the Ships'"
Sebastian Junger's "The Bonds of Battle"
Lee Martin's "Bastards"
Lisa Nikolidakis's "Fam
Kathryn Potter
In my AP Language and Composition class, we have started to tackle The Best American Essays 2016, edited by John Franzen. To start off, we read, annotated, and discussed Bajadas, written by Francisco Cantú. In Bajadas, Cantú serves as a border agent for the United States Border Patrol. We observe from the beginning of the essay to the end how Cantú’s behavior changes because of his job and how it affects him mentally and physically. The essay begins with him talking to his mother on Christmas Ev ...more
Abby Boes
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
For my AP Language and Composition course we just began The Best American Essays 2016 but have only read Bajadas thus far. Personally, I found the essay to be unique due to the various journal entries that were spaced out over a period of time. Francisco Cantú shows the internal fight with himself while pursuing a dangerous career. One thing that made me question his writing style in the essay was the lack of a purpose or thesis. Cantú does a good job telling his story, but he does not outright ...more
Avery Reynolds
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This year for my AP Language and Composition class, we are reading The Best American Essays 2016, and the first essay we read was Bajadas by Francisco Cantu. I enjoyed the journal essays that shed light on Cantu's time as a border patrol agent. His journal entries portray the toll the job takes on one's conscience. Throughout the story, Cantu had to battle the moral dilemmas and address the issues of illegal immigrants. The essay was not your typical argumentative essay and did not have a defini ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some good ones and some not good ones! Mostly good ones! Personal favorite was "Big Night" by Jill Sisson Quinn!
Jan 16, 2017 added it
This is a strange, strange collection of essays, at least from where I'm standing. It's always amusing to think about the logic people use when they interpret the word, "best." Franzen seems to have quite a simple metric, choosing voices and messages he thought people needed to hear. There is a lot of writing about trauma of various kinds, experiences that stick with us psychologically, from military service to car wrecks to poverty to sexual exploitation to murder to violence in visual media to ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In the introduction to last year's Best Essays collection, editor Jonathan Franzen writes that his "main criterion for selecting . . .essays was whether an author had taken a risk." He admits to excluding some fine essays because they didn't satisfy his "taste for intensity." The selections in this anthology do indeed mirror the intense global climate of the last few years. Treating such issues as race, sexuality, severe family dysfunction, mental and physical disabilities, sexual harassment, wa ...more
May 27, 2017 rated it liked it
This is the first time I have purchased the Greatest American Essay collection. While there were some essays of strong interest the collection suffered a bit of unevenness. Some of these essays were not of interest to me.

Essays of Note include Girl by the author Alexander Chee from Guernica magazine in which he writes about his experiences as a homosexual man in SAN Francisco and in particular in dressing up and going out in drag as well as his initial experiences with makeup as a young boy gro
Holly Woodward
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent anthology.
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: teaching, essays
I like to use the most recent editon of the Best American Essays when I teach Creative Nonfiction—as a way of saying, here's what people who write "essays" are writing right now.

So this edition, like all of them, has some terrific pieces: sensitive, nuanced, well-crafted. But I have to say, in a year that brought us Trump. Syria, Brexit, the immigrant crisis, global warming, the Dakota Pipeline—why is so much of the "best" nonfiction writing about domestic scenes, sensitive kids and uncaring par
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've read many of these anthologies, and I always have found essays that I have really enjoyed. However, I have to say that this 2016 edition offers the most variety of essays regarding content, tone and style that I have seen in a long time. I was thrilled to see work by Jill Sisson Quinn, who is one of my favorite authors, but I also loved the essays by Francisco Cantu, Sebastian Jungar, Amitava Kumar, and Mason Stokes. Finally, I can't say that I loved the essay, "Sexual Paranoia" by Laura Ki ...more
Dr E C MacMullin
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I like the smorgasbord of ideas in collections like this
Brad Hodges
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This year's The Best American Essays was an eclectic and interesting collection. Again they feature personal reminisces over almost everything else, but once I've understood that's what they think essays are, I've accepted it. There's even an essay about salamanders ("Big Night" by Jill Sisson Quinn) that manages to tie into her life.

This year's book was guest edited by Jonathan Franzen, most notably known as the author of doorstop novels, but I found his selection pretty good. Of course, I hav
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I just read the first essay in this book, Bajadas, for my AP Langage and Composition class and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved reading about the main character Cantu and his moral dilemma that came with being a border patrolman. Each character had a unique personality and backstory that I really enjoyed. I especially liked reading about the different Mexicans that tried to cross the border. Many of them were crossing to either find work or to be with their families. I thought that this was a ne ...more
Linh Nguyen
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Borders. Out of all subjects clattered in conversations of friends or strangers, “borders” seem to appear persistently everywhere in the world. The topic tiresomely evolves with heavy political tensions, too heavy that I’ve grown bored of this topic.
But I never regretted picking up Bajadas, although to be fair, it was an AP English Language and Composition assignment, of which I always grow a little tired. Bajadas, according to the dictionary, refers to the slope of alluvial at the foot of an e
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I have read these anthologies of essays for many years and usually think they are great. I had high expectations for this one because I think the 2016 anthology editor, Jonathon Franzen, is a terrific author but I was greatly disappointed. Most of these essays had flaws that made them seem uninteresting. Some were so personal that the essay topic got lost while others only seemed to be saying - look what a terrible world this is.

There were some good ones, though. Here are my favorites:

Of Human
Lee Kofman
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Yet another brilliant collection in this series. But this time my experience of reading it was a bit different. Normally I find almost all essays in these anthologies to be good, with some of course being my favorites for various reasons. This time there were quite a few essays here I couldn’t engage with, either because their topic was of no interest to me and the prose wasn’t strong enough to redeem the theme, or they were written in a quite pedestrian way (Chee’s and Kumar’s essays are exampl ...more
K.D. Rose
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Though I know of Jonathan Franzan, I am not so into his writing so I had no idea of what to expect of this volume of the best American essays for 2016. The interesting thing about The Best American Essays Series is that while the curators are chosen and provided tons of choices (by Robert Atwan who has been doing this series forever and whose forwards make each book worth reading themselves) the final choices come together as a collection in a telling manner depending on who the guest curator is ...more
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
i love this series!!!!!!!! franzen's 'theme' was essays that demonstrated risk, either woven into the story itself or a risky boldness in the commitment of the story to writing. favorites from this one:
Bajadas...Francisco Cantu
Ordinary Girls...Jaquira Diaz
My Heart Lies Between "The Fleet" and "All the Ships"...Ela Harrison
The Bonds of Battle...Sebastian Junger
Bastards...Lee Martin
Right/Left: A Triptych...Marsha Pomerantz
Killing Like They Do in the Movies...Justin Phillip Reed
A General Feeling of
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have officially fallen in love with the essay!!! I read the 2015 edition as a first foray into this genre and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. So I picked up 2016 and am blown away! Blown away with the attention and care these writers have taken with such vulnerable subjects. Each essay read like the ripping off of a bandaid to discover, rediscover, or examine a lingering wound. This is a weird thing to say, but if felt like an honor to read this compilation of essays. If you ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This year's BAE had totally left a good impression not only volumes but also contents. I like "Names" by Paul Crenshaw, "Ordinary Girls" by Jaquira Diaz, "Pyre" by Amitava Kumar, "Of Human Carnage" by Richard M Lange, "Basstards" by Lee Martin, " Family Tradition" by Lisa Nikolidakis, "The Lost Sister: An Elegy" by Joyce Carol Oates, "Big Night" by Jill Sisson Quinn, and "Black and Blue and Blond" by Thomas Chatterton Williams.

I couldn't understand "The Eleventh Commandment" by George Steiner fo
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Jonathan Franzen is the author of The Corrections, winner of the 2001 National Book Award for fiction; the novels The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion; and two works of nonfiction, How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, all published by FSG. His fourth novel, Freedom, was published in the fall of 2010.

Franzen's other honors include a 1988 Whiting Writers' Award, Granta's Best Of Young Ameri

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“As one anthropologist pointed out to me, trauma is usually a group experience, so trauma recovery should be a group experience as well. But in our society it’s not.” 0 likes
“But what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life? What becomes of students so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life? I can’t help asking, because there’s a distressing little fact about the discomfort of vulnerability, which is that it’s pretty much a daily experience in the world, and every sentient being has to learn how to somehow negotiate the consequences and fallout, or go through life flummoxed at every turn.” 0 likes
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