How About that Best American?

October 21, 2009 § 1 Comment

In our effort to seem young and jazzy, the Brevity editorial team hangs out on Facebook way too much.  Along the way though, we noticed that former Mid-American Review nonfiction editor Karen Babine had posted a thoughtful, personal reaction to the latest Best  American Essays volume, edited by Mary Oliver.  We like her enthusiasm (as a reader and a teacher) toward the BAE series, so we asked Karen if we could post her Facebook review to Brevity as a bonus between-issues book review, and we did, and we hope to spark some discussion here.  If you want to comment, go ahead and comment here, or if you have your own review of BAE 2009, send it to us for the blog.

Here’s an excerpt from Karen’s full review:

When my 2009 Best American Essays arrived and it was only half the thickness of my Best American Travel Writing, I frowned at it. What is this? Where’s the rest of my book? But I sat down on the couch with it and my highlighter and did what I always do: I flip to the back and check out the Notables, because this is where I think the neat stuff is happening. I highlight people I know or magazines I really like. My highlight was back in 2003, when my brother-in-all-but-blood Matt had an essay in the Notables. This time around, there were quite a few names I recognized and that thrills me as much as anything else about my BAE.

Here’s my overall impression of this collection: well done. I’ve got a fairly specific aesthetic, one that likes to see essays not only work through an idea, but I want to be able to see the author’s brain on the page working through the idea. But there has to be more than that. I want the author’s work to illuminate some other area that I didn’t expect, something that’s at stake for me as the reader.  And I want language. Too many of the essays I’ve seen in past years have completely neglected the language.

Karen goes on to discuss specific BAE essays by Brian Doyle, Sue Allison, Richard Rodriguez, Jill McCorkle, Gregory Orr, and Janna Malamud Smith.  We really think the full review is worth reading, with Best American Essays 2009 at your side.


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