I consistently find myself prefering Best American Essays
over Best American Short Stories
, possibly because I feel less in competition with America's best essayists, but possibly also because it really is the better product.
This year was Susan Orlean's turn to edit, and this year's collection is the best in the series that I've read (though last year's
was very good as too). Orlean seems fond of shorter pieces, which is definitely a very good thing. My one complaint, which isn't really a fair one, is that I seem to have already read more of these essays than I had in previous years.
Nevertheless there are some excellent pieces here. David Fosty Wally's "Consider the Lobster"
is probably the most notable essay of the bunch; it's certainly the one that received the most attention when it was published. Oliver Sacks ("Speed") is always fantastic, and while I wouldn't have necessarily chosen "Speak, Hoyt-Schermerhorn" as Lethem's best essay from the last year, it's certainly a worthy choice. Franzen's Peanuts essay
, as well as gently mocked in Backwards City #2
) is rightly included as well. Greensboro's own Paul Crenshaw contributed "Storm Country," which I heard him read at the Friendly Center, and it's quite good, though I remain insanely jealous and continue to plot my revenge. David Sedaris ("Old Faithful"
) belongs in the book, as he does every year.
Of the work that was new to me, I particularly enjoyed Ian Frazier's essay on memory
, Danielle Ofri's rumination on the ethics of doctor-assisted suicide, Paula Speck's "Six Seconds" (on assigning a monetary value to the pain-filled final seconds of a person's life), and Brian Doyle's "Joyas Voladoras", which very well might have been retitled "Consider the Hummingbird."
Good stuff all around.