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The Best American Essays 2010 [Paperback]

Christopher Hitchens , Robert Atwan

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Book Description

Sept. 28 2010 Best American

The provocative and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens takes the helm of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this perennial favorite that is “reliable and yet still surprising—the best of the best” (Kirkus Reviews).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (Sept. 28 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547394519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547394510
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 14 x 1.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 299 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #72,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review


"This collection is satisfying in its unexpected diversity and tasty juxtapositions . . . Every reader will come away delighted and enlightened." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A wide variety of quality writing, both reflective and reported." -- Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS is the author of four collections of essays.
 


ROBERT ATWAN has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986. He has edited numerous literary anthologies and written essays and reviews for periodicals nationwide.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Relatively few gems in a decent collection Nov. 21 2010
By David M. Giltinan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Of all the anthologies appearing annually under the "Best American" rubric, the one whose quality appears most highly dependent on the particular choice of guest editor is the "Best American Essays" collection. Just compare the 2007 and 2008 collections, edited respectively by David Foster Wallace and Adam Gopnik, to see just how much difference a guest editor can make (DFW leaves Gopnik in the dust, unsurprisingly). So I was somewhat reassured to see Christopher Hitchens as this year's invited editor. After all, Hitchens can be regarded as a kind of literary Simon Cowell -- someone who projects the image of being way too self-satisfied with his own gleefully obnoxious persona, but who's nonetheless possessed of reasonably good judgment, with a refreshing unwillingness to suffer fools gladly. Although one might be repelled by his personality, the chances of his serving up a plateful of dud essays seemed remote. At the very least, he seemed likely to have high editorial standards and a broad range of interests. So I had high hopes for this year's anthology.

Which were, unfortunately, not quite met. The 2010 collection of "best" essays is not a complete failure. Many of the contributions are excellent, though there are few that I would classify as outstanding (Steven Pinker's "My Genome, Myself" is an honorable exception, though I had already read it twice - in the NY Times when it first appeared, and in the 2010 anthology of Best American Science Writing; James Woods's New Yorker piece on George Orwell, "A Fine Rage", also shines, as does Jane Churchon's exquisite "The Dead Book"). But there were many pieces that simply failed to take off, in that the reader could only observe the writer's passion for his subject, but was never moved to share it ("Brooklyn the Unknowable", "Rediscovering Central Asia", "Gettysburg Regress" all proved too soporific for me to finish). And I remain puzzled as to the reason for including the longest essay in the collection, a 24-page profile of former Washington DC mayor, Marion Barry, whose relevance in 2010 would appear to be non-existent. Retired ophthalmologist John Gamel's beautifully written piece "The Elegant Eyeball" was spoiled for me by being about a decade behind the times as far as available treatments were concerned. I thought Zadie Smith's recent essay collection Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays was astonishing, but "Speaking in Tongues" is not the essay I would have singled out for inclusion here. Fans of David Sedaris will be more delighted than I was by inclusion of his piece "Guy Walks into a Bar Car", but my Sedaris-fatigue is long-established, so your mileage may vary.

A breakdown of essay by general topic/type is revealing:

# of pieces concerned with writers/writing - 8 of 21
# of pieces that are autobiographical - 10 of 21

Even allowing for some double counting between those two categories, that's still an awful lot of navel-gazing for a 250-page volume. And this is ultimately what prevents this collection from being anything more than pretty deceent. Perhaps if writers understood that the world of writers and writing is nowhere near as infinitely fascinating to the general reader as it apparently is to them, there would be a greater chance of producing an anthology of pieces that are genuinely interesting.

I thought Christopher Hitchens might have the breadth of vision to produce a genuinely dazzling collection this year. I was wrong. The 2010 anthology is not an embarrassment. But neither is it particularly exciting.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide Range of Topics -- From Einstein to Eyeballs Oct. 10 2010
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Christopher Hitchens, Guest Editor for the 2010 edition, has selected a beefy bunch of essays, substantial pieces of writing that take the title "essay" seriously. All of the essays are from print publications - none of this online frippery. Selections in this volume first appeared in such publications as The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Harper's, among others. Several of the essays are on literary lives including John Updike, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov, and appropriately enough, Michel de Montaigne. Even the potentially light essays, one each by David Sedaris and Elif Batuman, are introspective enough to be taken quite seriously.

My favorites from the collection this year are -

*The Murder of Tolstoy, in which Elif Batuman presents a daringly original thesis before a gathering of Tolstoy scholars.

*When Writers Speak, in which Arthur Krystal contemplates the difference between how elegantly writers express themselves in writing and how different they sound when they speak.

*The Elegant Eyeball, in which ophthalmologist John Gamel relates his experiences with eyeballs, some attached to living humans and some not.

*My Genome, My Self, in which psychologist Steven Pinker has his genome mapped.

*Speaking in Tongues, in which Zadie Smith observes that the voice she speaks with today is vastly different from the one she grew up with, and how, like Eliza Doolittle, she can't go back to her old voice.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly dull with one big exception Nov. 26 2010
By moose_of_many_waters - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
On the plus side, by reading this book I get a pretty good idea how my taste in writing lines up with Christopher Hitchens. On the minus side, it seems that there is not a whole lot of overlap. There are quite a few essays here where people talk about their professional expertise in an arty kind of way, slightly above what you'd get from sitting next to them in an airplane. But I don't like airplane seat neighbor conversation very much, so those essays (by an eye doctor, by writers talking about language in a personal way) were rather dull for me.

There is the obligatory essay by David Sedaris. He's not my cup of tea; I find him way too glib. There are some fawning pieces about Updike and Buckley from Ian McEwan and Garry Wills, respectively. I like both Updike and Buckley quite a bit, but the essays about them seem a bit forced.

Overall, I was kind of bored by this collection. The quality of the writing is often just OK. The topics tend to the arcane. For me, this volume is saved by a remarkable piece by Matt Labash on Marion Barry. I don't really care about Marion Barry in the least. But I kept reading that essay with interest throughout. That piece is right up there with the best of Gay Talese You can find the it online here ([...]). It's really a wonderful work of journalism.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A generous serving of brain food: well-written essays on a wide variety of subjects Jan. 2 2011
By cs211 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Christopher Hitchens performed admirably as guest editor of The Best American Essays 2010 by selecting twenty-one uniformly strong essays on their merits as pieces of writing, rather than on their subject matter or political viewpoints, as happens in some years of this series. If there is a bias at all in Hitchens' selections, it may be towards essays about authors and literature: Leo Tolstoy, John Updike and William F. Buckley are the subject of essays (although Buckley was much more than an author), and there are essays about the challenges writers face when they speak and an essay writer's experiences having lunch with four famous older authors. But there are also essays about Albert Einstein, former Washington D.C. mayor Marion Barry, Brooklyn, Gettysburg, Central Asia, and several personal experience essays about a nurse pronouncing patients dead, living with chronic severe vertigo, riding Amtrak and hanging out in the bar car, and having one's genes analyzed. All in all it is a diverse collection, without a clunker in the group, that will educate the reader about a variety of topics while showcasing writing that is well worth emulating.

The three essays that impressed me the most were:

-- Steven L. Isenberg's "Lunching on Olympus": Isenberg describes his brief encounters over lunch with four English authors that he admired. Although the events of the lunches themselves are trivial, the power of the essay is in what Isenberg conveys about hero worship, which affects everyone, from a kid idolizing a sports star to an intellectual looking up to his predecessors,

-- Matt Labash's "A Rake's Progress": Labash's bio says that Esquire has called him "one of the absolute greatest magazine writers in America", and after reading this profile of Marion Barry, I believe it. It's extremely well written, interesting and insightful - it's too bad all magazine articles aren't this good.

-- Ian McEwan's "On John Updike": John Updike is one of the biggest figures in American literature in the past fifty years, and McEwan manages to convey why in a very small number of words - this essay is a model for communicating a strong message in a concentrated form.

The quality level of the essays was pretty uniformly high. The three I enjoyed less than others were Toni Bentley's "The Bad Lion", which didn't strike me with any emotional power, the way that the author intended; and S. Frederick Starr's "Rediscovering Central Asia" and James Wood's "A Fine Rage", both of which presented so much detail about their subject matter that I felt a bit lost reading them and couldn't judge whether the arguments they were making were correct or not.

I often refer to this series as "brain food", since reading well-written essays will educate and stimulate your brain. I can wholeheartedly recommend The Best American Essays 2010 as a sizable portion of tasty brain food.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent collection nicely edited Feb. 21 2011
By jessbcuz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
For many years I was strictly a fiction reader, but in the past few years or so I've realized that I've broadened my horizons. Currently, one of my favorite things to read are essays. I subscribe to a few publications that regularly publish essays, and I hit upon them online as well, but the Best American Essays (2010) exposed me to some interesting works from 2009 that I wouldn't have found on my own (Note: While titled 2010, this collection is made up of essays published in 2009--I'm supposing that is how it is each year). I have a feeling that I will be returning to these collections year after year.

These annual collections (with changing guest editors) look at many (many) essays before whittling it down to a manageble size. Because of the large pool they begin with, the resulting volume includes essays that were originally published in a variety of publications--many more than I could subscribe to or locate on my own. Some of those publications (and indeed, the very essays chosen) were already familiar to me (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, and The New York Review of Books), but some of them were not. Not only did I get to discover some thought-provoking writing, but I discovered some new publications as well.

Overall this collection holds up well. I've been dipping in and out of it for the past couple months, reading pretty much in chronological order (with a few exceptions). Christopher Hitchens' introduction is a jewel in itself, exploring the word "essay" to expose the variety of forms this genre can take. Reading the first few essays in the collection, it seemed that some care was taken in the ordering of them, as reading one before the other opened up the meaning of another. And there are many excellent essays in the bunch. Some of my favorites are "The Dead Book," "The Elegant Eyeball," "Me, Myself, and I," "My Genome, My Self," "Gyromancy," and "Speaking in Tongues." Although all were excellently written, I was underwhelmed by some of the other selections, including Sedaris' piece. This was particularly dissappointing as I am a great Sedaris fan, but no matter...there were plenty of other selections to make up for it. Like piece by Zadie Smith I was thrilled to see was included; I have recently come to admire her reviews and essays (her own published collection,Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, is quite good as well if you enjoy her writing).

All in all, I'd highly recommend this collection to anyone who is interested in a variety of topics written by some fine writers and thinkers of today.
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