Longtime readers know that I'm a fan of the Best American series; despite my reservations about a selection process that inevitably results in 6-10 pieces from the New Yorker
every year, the volumes are generally good reads. Unfortunately, this year's Best American Essays
, edited by Lauren Slater, is by far the worst edition of the series I've read. The essays themselves are generally decent; what's lacking is anything resembling variety. The chart above is no exaggeration: nearly every essay in the book is about dead pets, dead mothers, or dead mothers and their pets (also dead). A third of the way through the book, this pattern is evident; two-thirds of the way through, it's downright embarassing.
The stand-out essays are the few which escape the hegemony of dead things: Oliver Sacks's "Recalled to Life," Emily Bernard's "Teaching the N-Word," Peter Selgin's "Confessions of a Left-Handed Man."
And, yes, to be fair, several of the dead-pets-and-or-moms essays are quite good too: David Rieff remembering his mother, Susan Sontag,
It's just that people wrote about other things last year. I'm certain of it.