Read The Best American Essays 2015 by Ariel Levy Robert Atwan Mark Jacobson Zadie Smith Roger Angell Kendra Atleework Anthony Doerr Margo Jefferson Online


“Writing an essay is like catching a wave,” posits guest editor Ariel Levy. “To catch a wave, you need skill and nerve, not just moving water.” This year’s writers are certainly full of nerve, and have crafted a wide range of pieces awash in a diversity of moods, voices, and stances. Leaving an abusive marriage, parting with a younger self, losing your sanity to Fitbit, an“Writing an essay is like catching a wave,” posits guest editor Ariel Levy. “To catch a wave, you need skill and nerve, not just moving water.” This year’s writers are certainly full of nerve, and have crafted a wide range of pieces awash in a diversity of moods, voices, and stances. Leaving an abusive marriage, parting with a younger self, losing your sanity to Fitbit, and even saying goodbye to a beloved pair of pants imbued with meaning are all unified by the daring of their creation. As Levy notes, “Writing around an idea you think is worthwhile—an idea you suspect is an insight—requires real audacity.”  The Best American Essays 2015 includes Hilton Als, Roger Angell, Justin Cronin, Meghan Daum, Anthony Doerr, Margo Jefferson, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit and others ARIEL LEVY, guest editor, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2008. She received the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism for her piece “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” which she is expanding into a book for Random House. Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy’s first book, has been translated into seven languages. She teaches at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and at Wesleyan University.ROBERT ATWAN, the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986, has published on a wide variety of subjects, from American advertising and early photography to ancient divination and Shakespeare. His criticism, essays, humor, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous periodicals nationwide....

Title : The Best American Essays 2015
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ISBN : 9780544569621
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
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The Best American Essays 2015 Reviews

  • Julie Christine
    2019-03-20 11:41

    My first BAE! A trusted reader recommended the anthology and upon finishing I thought, "What took me so long to read one of these?" It's like having access to all those wonderful literary journals and magazines I can't afford, just there, on my nightstand, for my usual 3 a.m. open eyes. So many of the names in this collection are familiar: Justin Cronin, Anthony Doerr, Malcolm Gladwell, Margo Jefferson, Kate Lebo, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed that I wondered, "Did these marquee names really write the best American essays of 2015?, or do they remain marquee names because their writing is just that good?" In a couple instances, I felt the writer's inclusion had more to do with attracting a certain demographic into reaching for an anthology of essays than it did with the actual quality of the work. But let's not worry about the few pieces I found forgettable. Because I've forgotten them already. Let's talk about the ones that made me tremble, laugh, cry, shake in outrage or wonder. Aging seemed to be the only theme uniting some of these essays, and editor Ariel Levy cites the prevalence of essays on growing old published in the American essay canon this past year. Roger Angell wrote This Old Man at the remarkable milestone of ninety-three (I say "milestone" because I reckon each year over ninety deserves to be lauded). Sven Birkerts convalesces in Strange Days. Mark Jacobson looks at 65 and realizes he's reached a true milestone when the world deems him "old". But the one that got to me, the one I could read over and over, the one I'd read at a slumber party, if I wasn't too old for slumber parties, is John Reed's ohmygodohmygodohmygod My Grandma the Poisoner/ Yeah, it's about an old woman, but she wasn't always old. Question is, why didn't anyone notice she was always evil? Brrr... chilling. Unputdownable. Despite the emphasis on aging and bodies broken down by time, it is the work of two younger writers that stopped me in my tracks. Kendra Atleework's Charade cries out to be a full-length work. Her writing is stunning. Raw. This is a true story, but I ache to read the rest, either as a novel, or in memoir form. Watch this writer. You will see her again. Kelly Sundberg's essay about her perfect marriage-turned-horror-show of abuse, It Will Look Like a Sunset is a perfect example of how the most intelligent, perceptive, strong people can lose their way, can be detoured by fear, manipulation, shame, and guilt. It is an exceptional piece of writing from yet another rising voice in creative non-fiction. Anthony Doerr's meditation on one of the founding families of Boise, Idaho, Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul, is poignant and beautiful, as is most everything he writes. And then there is David Sedaris being utterly true to character, his usual unusual laugh-out-loud self, in Stepping Out.Scenes for a Life in Negroland is one of my favorite pieces of this collection. Jefferson opens a window into her childhood, growing up in a upper-class Chicago neighborhood, the child of highly-educated, well-off parents. We thought of ourselves as the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all class of Caucasians. Like the Third Eye, the Third Race possessed a wisdom, intuition, and enlightened knowledge the other two races lacked. It's at first a fascinating, then a shattering, look at racial culture and racism in years leading up the Civil Rights movement of the early 60s. Philip Kennicott and Kate Lebo explore a different type of identity, in Smuggler and The Loudproof Room, respectively. Kennicott recalls encountering same-sex desire in literature and finding at last a common narrative to help shape and define his own feelings; Lebo's compromised hearing allows her to experience the world in ways she's not certain she's ready to give up to corrective surgery. I end with the two pieces that took my breath away: Ashraf H. A. Rushdy's Reflections on Indexing My Lynching Book and Rebecca Solnit's Arrival Gates. Rushdy's piece speaks of past anguish that has caught up to our present, except that today we do not speak of lynchings, we hear instead the oft-repeated phrase, "police shooting of an unarmed black man", we see the statistics behind mass incarceration, we have to point out that Black Lives Matter, because Jim Crow still walks amongst us. Rushdy writes of his index, a listing of names—the names of the murdered, the murderers, those who fought to change the system and the culture; place names, dates—an alphabetical history of lynching in the United States. ... the index, the part with the least imaginative input ... contain a great deal of emotional energy that is probably no readily apparent to the reader.It is a profound piece of writing. I saved Solnit's essay for last, even though it is not the last in the BAE 2015, because: Rebecca Solnit. She does not disappoint. Solnit writes of traveling to Japan to see first-hand how the 2011 disaster trifecta has affected the country one year later and, in Solnit-style, this objective leads her into a journey of a different sort. She wanders through a park outside Kyoto and contemplates the representation of time, what we mean when we say "arrival" and how to be present with our own past and future. It's an essay I will return to, one that make this particular volume a keeper in my personal library.

  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    2019-04-13 07:43

    Each year's collection is a bit of a gamble. Sometimes there are only a few essays that connect, other years it's a jackpot. This year is closer to the jackpot end of the spectrum. Guest editor Ariel Levy tosses in a few sure bets -- Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris. The essay by Roger Angell about being old, which also appears in the forthcoming Best American Magazine Writing of 2015, is worth reading more than once, if you already saw it in The New Yorker. If there's a theme to this bunch of essay, it's to do with life transitions. Getting old, becoming or not becoming a parent, beginning or ending a relationship. Not all of the essays fit into even this broad topic, and there are serious pieces, light-hearted articles, and hard-to-categorize essays. Some don't even seem like essays at all.I especially liked Megham Daum's reflections on parenthood and Justin Cronin's essay on getting older and more dependent as his daughter grows into adulthood and independence. The final essay by Kelly Sundberg is a powerful telling of her marriage to a man who beat her. If you or anyone you know wonder why a woman wouldn't just leave such a relationship, read this and you may have a better understanding of how it isn't a simple decision. She doesn't excuse anyone and she did finally leave him, but you get a glimpse of the thinking behind what seems to many a mystifying decision.

  • Jacqueline Masumian
    2019-03-19 09:40

    This group of essays has much to offer. Many of them are personal essays, several of those having to do with old age or illness. But there is actually a wide variety in this collection, including humor and philosophical or political meditations. I particularly liked Meghan Daum's heartbreaking "Difference Maker," her story of attempting to mentor and be an advocate for needy children. Mark Jacobson's "65," in which he muses on the horror of turning that age, is another gem. And Anthony Doerr's "Things with Feathers..." tells the story of the early settlers of the first family home in Boise, Idaho; lyrical and thoughtful, it provides a glimpse into how history must preserved in every way possible. Other high points: Sven Birkert's gorgeous imagery as he lies in bed recovering from surgery, and Ashraf Rushdy's painful and angry musings on indexing his book about lynching, and David Sedaris's funny story about becoming a slave to his Fitbit.Actually, there are so many beautiful essays in this book, I cannot take time to name them all. But I highly recommend delving into this collection.

  • Iva
    2019-03-22 10:48

    As usual, these essays were exceptional examples of creative non-fiction and personal essays. Though many came from easy-to-find sources (The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, etc.), small literary journals were represented as well. The strength came from a variety of subject matter and many were heart-wrenching as well as reflective. I look forward to 2016's collection.

  • Kate Alleman
    2019-04-06 08:29

    So many feels reading this book!! Kate Lebo's "The Loudproof Room" was simply astounding. I loved her final paragraph: "Disability can create sensibility.My disability is invisible, my limitations are aesthetic. They make art and they make mistakes, reminding me constantly that the way I sense and experience the world is different. At a slight angle, as Forster said of Cavafy. Which is a reminder that difference isn't unique to me. That's why listening creates a conversation. That's how reading creates a poem. It's terrifying to lose your senses. Then, sometimes, it's a pleasure."I also loved Roger Angell's "This Old Man." When I was studying Art History in undergrad, I tended to gravitate towards themes on aging (the unideal, yet universal aspect). When he talks to his therapist that he doesn't know how he can continue on with this overwhelming sense of loss. He she responds with "Neither do I, but you will." That is so relevant to everyone's life. Nobody knows what joys and heartbreak lie around the corner, waiting for them, but they get through it.

  • Mark Patton
    2019-04-08 10:26

    Every year, I read both The Best American Essays and The Best American Short Stories cover to cover and always am impressed by many of the works included. The essays, as usual, range from the humorous to the heartfelt, the political to the social, the surprising to the mundane. Recommended yearly reading!Side note: I didn't discover that I hadn't read the 2015 volumes until I purchased the 2016 volumes and added them to my to-read pile. I'm not sure if this says something about me or about the size and disarray of the pile.

  • Vince Darcangelo
    2019-04-03 08:36

    Faves:Isaiah Berlin, "A Message to the Twenty-First Century"Tim Kreider, "A Man and His Cat"Kate Lebo, "The Loudproof Room"John Reed, "My Grandma the Poisoner"Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, "Reflections on Indexing My Lynching Book"

  • Kelly Chastain
    2019-04-09 14:27

    There are some absolute gems in this one!

  • Billie Pritchett
    2019-04-03 13:28

    I'll do my best to recall as many of The Best American Essays 2015 as possible but I won't be able to, because I read them over an extended period, particularly one long period between essays and then I got back to this collection. Before I get into the essays, I would like to say that I've discovered just how every year's essays really does bear the mark of the editor. This year's editor was Ariel Levy, an incredible author in her own right, and she has made quite a good compendium here. Here are some of the more memorable ones.Isaiah Berlin's "A Message to the Twenty-First Century" is a call for modesty in politics. I don't agree with all his points but in general there's something to take away here, namely that every large-scale measure involves tradeoffs, that certain liberties interfere with some cases of equality, and that it is very difficult to strike a balance here. Again, a call for modesty.Margo Jefferson's "Scenes from a Life in Negroland" has since, I believe, been made into a book, Negroland. She writes of the difficulties of growing up a rich black girl in a neighborhood and a world largely dominated by whites. Particularly difficult is the kind of proprieties her wealthy black family must observe because the family as well as other white people are always looking out suspiciously for the black family to 'slip,' to associate with poor black people, who are so often demeaned, a world of contradictions.Tim Kreider's "A Man and His Cat" is about him and his cat. Kreider essays are always awesome. Read them any chance you get. Fluffy or not, they're always perceptive.John Reed's "My Grandma the Poisoner" is a great essay about Reed's grandmother perhaps poisoning her relatives' food incrementally and intentionally, and perhaps poisoning animals, always getting away with it, up until the end.David Sedaris's "Stepping Out" is a tale of Sedaris's obsession with Fit-Bit, which both gets him into walking and discovering new ways to engage with the world, but also making him obsess over his dependency on this device.Cheryl Strayed's "My Uniform" is a touching, if occasionally ribald, story about a pair of workout clothes that her husband teased her about, but which has special significance for th two of them.And that's all I can remember offhand just by looking at the titles.

  • sisterimapoet
    2019-04-18 07:49

    Always a pleasure to spend time within the pages of this series of books. It feels like mingling at a very interesting party, where inevitably occasionally you get stuck talking to a bore, but also find yourself in fascinating and entertaining company. And all without leaving the house!

  • Carole Duff
    2019-04-10 07:42

    I dog-ear the essays I truly love, and there are several dog-eared pages in this collection.

  • Kaia
    2019-04-04 12:48

    4.5 stars. Some essay collections are really hit or miss, but I only had to skim over a few essays in this one. Most of the selections were engaging.

  • Monica A.
    2019-03-29 12:44

    The essay, "My Daughter & God" by Justin Cronin was a great read!

  • K.D. Rose
    2019-04-16 09:24

    Ariel Levy curated this collection and while there are many exceptional essays in the book, it doesn't hold the same greatness as say the collections curated by Jamison and Franzen.

  • Joe Kraus
    2019-04-01 06:34

    I read most of these Best of collections cover to cover because I often use them as text books in my creative nonfiction writing classes. The challenge in reading them (and I imagine in editing them, too) is that have a yearbook/miscellany quality to them. They can’t really be thematic because they’re trying to acknowledge the “best of” a given year. So, like buffets or potlucks, there can be real high points, but there’s also a necessary (and often enjoyable) sameness. We don’t get the focused collection of essays that stands out from other collections, but we are guaranteed good eating…or reading as the case may be.That said, I think this is a stronger offering than most. To begin with, Bob Atwan’s customary opening reflections on the nature of the essay are even stronger than usual. For me, who’s read all of his introductions for close to a decade and who’s even had the distinct pleasure of knowing him a bit, he manages to build on his ongoing meditations on how we might define “essay,” but he does so in a way that I imagine is open to a first-time reader. And, paired with that, Ariel Levy has the insight to write as thoughtfully as a guest editor I can remember (with the possible exception of the great Lauren Slater in 2006) and then the grace to do so briefly. It’s a very good way to start.After that, the clear highlight here is Roger Angell’s “This Old Man.” Writing as a 93 year old man surprised still to be “vertical,” and even more than that surprised to find moments of joy after the unthinkable losses of his wife and daughter (and the lesser but still painful loss of a beloved dog who fell to its death from a window), Angell gives a beautiful description of the everyday work of making life matter. It’s both matter-of-fact and flat-out inspiring. I expect “This Old Man” will wind up in high school textbooks before too long, likely paired with E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake.” Not only do both deal with the sense that we have to work to understand our mortality, that there is a powerful beauty we have to extract from the ambivalent and varied world around us, but Angell is the boy – White’s son – in that now 75-year old essay. Both are brilliant and substantial works of American art. White talks about Angell, without naming him, as the son who will go on to make memories of his own; Angell, without naming him, thinks of the father (step-father if you want to be technical) who’s one of many beloved presences he can still recall to the now, can still recognize as part of what has given his life joy.There are some other quite strong ones, too. Meghan Daum’s “Difference Maker” reflects on parenting from a different angle. She knows she doesn’t want to be a mother, but she weighs what it means to disappoint her husband, and she diverts her near-maternal feelings to trying to help foster children. In the way the best essays do, she lays bare her sadness and then lets it linger. She finds no easy answers, but she shares her hurt, and the beauty of her hurt, in a brave and open way.Another top essay is Kelly Sundberg’s too-brutal-to-take-your-eyes-off “It Will Look Like Sunset” in which she recounts how she came to be an abused wife. Sundberg can write – I learn here that she’s one of the editors at the excellent Brevity – and she has a powerful story to tell. I will certainly share this one with my students, but it will come later in the term. The hurt is too much to come at directly.I have to spare a word, too, for Rebecca Solnit’s “Arrival Gates” about her visit to Japan. But it’s not really about that visit – an overwhelming one in the wake of the Fukijima earthquake – as much as it is about an epiphany she experiences at the orange gate of a temple she quickly tours. That leads her to a profound meditation on what it means to arrive, how arrival implies a journey that may have started any number of places depending upon how we look back on it. And then she culminates in the sense that we are always arriving somewhere, that every moment, when we push ourselves to consider it, marks a potential culmination. It’s overwhelming, and in the hands of a lesser writer might be trite, but it’s inspiring here.The next tier is strong too, essays by Sven Birkerts (in a more personal mode than I’m used to from him), Tiffany Briere, Justin Cronin, and Zadie Smith are all ones I’ll work to share with students as well.I’ll wrap with the final observation that four top-tier essays in a Best-of is more or less par for the course. Beyond that, Levy particularly distinguishes herself in that she has almost no essays that disappoint me. (Most of these collections have two or three that make me say, “how did that get there?”) There’s quality throughout this, and that’s a tribute not just to Atwan’s general method but to Levy’s particular sensibility.

  • Penelope
    2019-03-21 12:37

    2015's Selection of Essays was good. Much better than 2014.Many resonated with me including:The Thing with Featers that Perches in The Soul by Anthony DoerrA Man and His Cat by Tim KreiderMy Grandma the Poisoner by John ReedIt will look like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg

  • Veronica
    2019-04-04 13:20

    The thing about The Best American series is that it can be hit or miss on a personal level. You’ll get some essays that don’t make too much sense and cause you to question their inclusion, and you’ll get some others that strike you perfectly and you’re so glad for having read them. The Best American Essays 2015 is no different. There were some that I loved, that I felt spoke directly to me, and there were others that left me wondering about the criteria for inclusion.Of those that I loved, I enjoyed Meghan Daum’s “Difference Maker” most. In this essay, Daum expounds on her decision not to have a child and her concurrent calling to become a court-appointed advocate for children in the foster care system. As a woman who, similarly, is not sure she ever wants to be a mother, I identified strongly with her emotional struggle in realizing that she did not want something she, supposedly, should inherently want. “I simply felt no calling to be a parent,” she writes. “As a role, as my role, it felt inauthentic. It felt like not what I was supposed to be doing with my life. My contribution to society was not about contributing more people to it but, rather, about doing something for the ones who were already here.” She describes her work as an advocate as challenging and frustrating and she doesn’t wrap up her story neatly, declaring her maternal needs met by the child she advises. Instead, we get her concern that she can never make a truly great difference in any of theses children’s lives. Her admissions were real and unapologetic and the uncertainty of her contribution rang so true to me.Mark Jacobson wonderfully explored aging in “65.” At just my mid-thirties I am starting to look back and ponder the different versions of myself that I have been, feeling that they existed not so long ago. For Jacobson, the arrival of 65 heralded the realization that, “I remain resolutely myself. I am the same me from my baby pictures, the same me who got laid for the first time in the bushes behind the high school field in Queens, the same me who drove a taxi through Harlem during the Frank Lucas days, the same me my children recognize as their father, the same me I was yesterday only more so by virtue of surviving yet another spin of the earth upon its axis. I was at the beginning again, stepping off into one more blank space into the Whitmanesque cosmos, a Magellan of me.” His illustration of age as the opportunity to explore oneself more is gloriously hopeful, even while taking of stock of the limited years he has left.In “My Daughter and God,” Justin Cronin finds himself questioning his belief – or, lack thereof – in God and faith after his wife and daughter survive a car accident that should have been fatal. Following the accident, his wife begins to feel drawn toward religion and spirituality, but their daughter, who has been raised outside of religion, refuses to have any part of it. He grapples with the gnawing question of how to process this event that is, by all accounts, miraculous, while not ascribing it to a divine entity: “[Meaning] is there is you look for it, and the willingness to search – whether this search finds expression in religious ritual or attentive care for one’s children or a long run through falling autumn leaves – is what is meant, I think, by faith.” His essay is a thoughtful look into the ways we turn to spirituality to explain what is unexplainable and how we find ways to cope without it.Rounding out the book are essays by familiar names such as Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Cheryl Strayed, and Margo Jefferson. Although I didn’t love or identify with every piece in this collection, I come to such anthologies with the hope of discovering a few new voices that stick with me. In that vein, this book performed marvelously.[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a book of essays]

  • Chris
    2019-04-05 07:38

    This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.Here’s my reviews for:20132014Ariel Levy wrote the best essay of last year: Thanksgiving in Mongolia — wherein she delivered a premature birth in a Mongolian hotel room. So I was looking forward to what she’d come up with as the editor of the latest installation. Unfortunately her introductory essay is short and forgettable. The essay selection itself is pretty good though.The essays in this collection skew heavily towards intense personal experience. There’s multiple entries about getting old or getting pregnant. Some of these are quite good, but as I mentioned in my review of 2013, sometimes I just want to hear a skilled writer go: “Hey I just found something cool / morally imperative, let me write about it!” There’s maybe only one or two in this collection like that, one of them being Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent essay on The Crooked Ladder: Why are the descendents of the Italian/Irish gangsters of the 1920s all upper class, entrenched Americans, but the families of the black gangsters of the 80s and 90s still mired in poverty?Here’s my favorites:Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul by Anthony Doerr: A romantic tale about the founding of Boise, Idaho of all things. A man finds a small house in Boise that he never noticed before despite driving by it every day. He tracks its history back to the marriage between two of the very first pioneers in Idaho, who had seven children living with them in their one-room cottage. What follows is a paean to humanity’s capacity to preserve and remember.A Man and His Cat by Tim Kreider: The title says it all. Kreider details the longest relationship of his life — the companionship of a 19 year old cat. When humans find their intra-human social needs missing, they tend to lower the bar and accept other creatures in their stead. A comic but moving defense of the personhood of animals.My Daughter and God by Justin Cronin: Cronin receives a call from his wife that she and their daughter had just been involved in a ‘fender bender’. He rapidly discovers that she is in shock and their accident was actually a catastrophic freeway spinout that obliterated their SUV but miraculously left both passengers unharmed. Cronin and wife then find God and organized religion and begin their search (in east Texas) for a church that isn’t horrendously, hatefully socially conservative. Meanwhile their daughter, a consummate atheist since she was in a stroller, feels betrayed and starts living in her closet. It’s the type of family drama that only shines in the hands of a skilled narrative writer, and Cronin is that.There’s a few duds. I’m sure there’s one or two aging/life change pieces so repetitive I’ve already forgotten them. And there’s a couple on the nature of Time that did not work for me. A guy recovering from surgery convaleses in his study and watches his day — sunlight, meals, segments of time itself — elongate and disintegrate. I found it intolerably boring. There’s a later one by Rebecca Solnit that takes on a similar theme, using Buddhist arches in Japan instead. It’s prettier but still meh. “Time is not absolute” is not exactly groundbreaking here.But, like I said, overall: Pretty good collection.

  • Fatima
    2019-04-17 13:41

    A collection of essays. Even if I didn’t like some of those essays, the reward of discovering new writers and new essays that I love is worth it. My favorite essays included Vision by Tiffany Briere, Stepping Out by David Sedaris, Charade by Kendra Atleework and The Crooked Ladder by Malcolm GladwellNotes:Hilton Als Islands [Transition]Roger Angell This Old Man [The New Yorker]"Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night."Kendra Atleework Charade [Hayden’s Ferry Review]A warm and touching essay portrayed the friendship of two girls in Wheeler Crest, CaliforniaIsaiah Berlin A Message to the Twenty-First Century [The New York Review of Books]Sven Birkerts Strange Days [Lapham’s Quarterly]An essay following the recovery days from a hip replacement surgeryTiffany Briere Vision [Tin House]Touching and sweet essay. Her mother, her roots and culture of relating to the dead. Her days as an undergraduate working in a lab harvesting organs from miceJustin Cronin My Daughter and God [Narrative]A sweet essay aboutMeghan Daum Difference Maker [The New Yorker]I’ve read this before in Meghan’s bookAnthony Doerr Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul [Granta]The story of the first suburban family house in Boise, Idaho.Malcolm Gladwell The Crooked Ladder [The New Yorker]The Mafia back at the beginning of the 20th century and today. The American Dream and Organized crime.Mark Jacobson 65 [New York]A view of the aging process for Mark’s generation, the baby boomers.Throughout my life, there has always been a number that sounded old. When I was sixteen, it was twenty-seven; at twenty-nine, it was forty-two; at thirty-eight, it was fifty-two. At sixty-five, however, it was sixty-five.Margo Jefferson Scenes from a Life in Negroland [Guernica]I liked this essay a lotPhilip Kennicott Smuggler [Virginia Quarterly Review]Tim Kreider A Man and His Cat [The New York Times]Cute essay about this man’s love for his cat. Although Tim never imagined that he’d be a cat guy, he now can’t imagine ever being without one.Kate Lebo The Loudproof Room [New England Review]An essay about using hearing loss aids.John Reed My Grandma the Poisoner [Vice] XAshraf H. A. Rushdy Re ections on Indexing My Lynching Book [Michigan Quarterly Review] XDavid Sedaris Stepping Out [The New Yorker]This essay was about acquiring a Fitbit! I enjoy everything David Sederis writes!Zadie Smith Find Your Beach [The New York Review of Books]"Here the focus is narrow, almost obsessive. Everything that is not absolutely necessary to your happiness has been removed from the visual horizon. The dream is not only of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it is conceived as a peculiar form of duty."Rebecca Solnit Arrival Gates [Granta]Cheryl Strayed My Uniform [Tin House]The 5 year old pantsKelly Sundberg It Will Look Like a Sunset [Guernica]

  • Jeff
    2019-04-07 13:46

    This was the first issue I read on a Kindle. And while I usually read with a bookmark on which I write the most compelling thoughts from the collection, the Kindle did a good job of letting me highlight those and search back through them. Another great year of selections.So many great stories. But these are the ones that have stuck with me: the grave and insightful observation of Margo Jefferson in "Scenes from a Life in Negroland" and Ashraf H.A. Rushdy in "Reflections on Indexing my Lynching Book" "These are examples of punishment beyond the death, a failure to accept mortality itself as the boundary marking what can be punished or killed. These are cases where a mob wanted more than blood, more than flesh, where it wanted the spirit itself of what it cast as a demonic force, which in the end was a demonic force only of the mob itself." -H.A RushdyAnthony Doerr's stylistic time-hopping story about the first private cabin built buy a white man in what became Boise in what was then the Idaho Territory circa 1863, which he titled "Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul""But listen: to live for a minimum of seven years with a minimum of seven kids in two hundred square feet with no toilet paper or Netflix or Xanax requires a certain kind of imperturbability. To adopt seven kids; to not give out when the snow is sifting through cracks in the chinking; to not lose your mind when a baby is feverish and screeching and a toddler is tugging your skirts and the hairdryer wind of August is blowing 110-degree heat under your door and the mass production of electric refrigerators is still fifty-five years away—something has to hold you together through all that.It Has to be love, doesn't it? In however many of its infinite permutations."Mark Jacobsen in "65" took an entertaining look at the reaching of that age, along with some well trodden, and maybe unfair (but maybe not) complaints about the younger generation."Who were these invaders, this interchangeable gaggle of screen-addicted, brand-worshipping solipsists who filled every bar and hoarded all the good body parts? Sure they got laid a lot, but how was it possible for seemingly intelligent twenty-four-year-olds to rack up hundreds of thousands in college debt yet know nearly nothing of the world prior to the year 2000?"Isaiah Berlin had a posthumous piece originally read as a speech in 1994, and reprinted in The New York Review of Books in 2014. Hence, it both qualified for the collection and offered a straddling premonition in "A Message to the Twenty-First Century""The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian pholosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false."Finally there was the casual borderline obvious observation from a fellow cat owner, Tim Kreider in "A Man and His Cat.""I will never know what, if anything, the cat thought of me. But I can tell you this: a man who is in a room with a cat—whatever else we might say about that man—is not alone."

  • Brad Hodges
    2019-04-09 12:41

    These Best American books are always a mixed bag, but as I look over the table of contents of The Best American Essays 2015, I must say that the batting average here is pretty high, including three terrific essays right in a row (the essays are arranged alphabetically by author). I'll get to those at the end, but I'll by praising some of the more light-hearted ones. David Sedaris, one of the great comic writers of this or any generation, writes about his deepening obsession with one of those step counters in "Stepping Out" (he gets up to sixty-thousand a day!) In "A Man and His Cat," Tim Kreider edges into very familiar territory--writing about a pet. What could have been junk for Reader's Digest instead is witty. "I lived with the same cat for nineteen years--by far the longest relationship of my adult life. Under common law, this cat was my wife."Staying in the less serious vein, Cheryl Strayed writes about her sweatpants in "My Uniform," and two essays about old age: Mark Jacobson's "65," about turning that age: "Only yesterday I was twenty-six, a strapping Icarus, soaring on the drunken tailwind of my own infinity. Or was that last week?" And the venerable Roger Angell, thirty years older, details the infirmities of a nonagenarian in "This Old Man." "The lower middle sector of my spine twists and jogs like a Connecticut country road, thanks to a herniated disk seven or eight years ago. This has cost me two or three inches of height, transforming me from Gary Cooper to Geppetto."Other essays worth noting are "Smuggler," Phillip Kennicott's lovely remembrance of how literature helped him deal with his homosexuality in a time when coming out was not an easy option, and John Reed's "My Grandma the Poisoner," in which the author puts two and two together and comes up with some troubling questions about his grandmother and the convenient deaths that occurred around her.My favorite essays came one after another, and I read two of them back to back, which was a great pleasure. "Visions," by Tiffany Briere, is a terrific work that contrasts the superstitions of her Jamaican people and the work she does for a pharmaceutical company (you'll learn a lot about how to dissect a mouse). This is followed by "My Daughter and God," by Justin Cronin, in which the author's wife and daughter are in a car accident that by all right should have killed them. The wife turns religious, but the daughter, a teenager, resists going to church. The third in this trio is Meghan Daum's "The Difference Maker," about her reluctance to have children, but instead becomes a Big Sister. It's a fascinating look into a woman's decision about motherhood.Although it wasn't my favorite essay, I did find Kendra Atleework's "Charade," a remembrance of a childhood friend, to have some lovely passages. This is my favorite: "The best rains fell at night in the autumn, out of clouds resting on the side of Wheeler Crest, fat and freezing. They rolled down the mountains, swallowing my house and the surrounding blue spruce, the skeletons of silver poplars, peaks bristled by evergreens. By November snow had reached the ridge, and the air was tangible, flavored with frost and the slow death of plants and birds. In the evenings came the smell of smoke, the metallic ping of my father's ax against knotty wood." Wow.

  • Robert
    2019-04-14 10:22

    My favorites from the collection: Roger Angell's "This Old Man"Anthony Doerr's "Thing with Feathers that Perches in the Soul"Margo Jefferson's "Scenes from a Life in Negroland"Philip Kennicott's "Smuggler"Ashraf H. A. Rushdy's "Reflections on Indexing my Lynching Book"Zadie Smith's "Find Your Beach"Cheryl Strayed's "My Uniform"Kelly Sundberg's "It Will Look Like a Sunset"

  • Art
    2019-04-04 14:22

    Three standouts in this collection: — Arrival Gates, by Rebecca Solnit, offers a fine moebius-strip of a muse on arriving, on arrivals. Arrival ends a journey, culminating a sequence of events. But once we arrive, can we arrive there again? A fun and fascinating think piece about time. My favorite in this year’s collection. — On the thoughts, experience and journey of convalescing after hip replacement by Sven Birkerts, whose own collection of essays, Changing the Subject: Essays on the Mediated Self, published last month. — David Sedaris' introduction to, experience with, then addiction to Fitbit, an activity tracker. The New Yorker first published this piece. Of the five hundred pieces under consideration, Ariel Levy, this year’s guest editor, received a hundred to make her final selection. In addition to the couple dozen essays published here, an eighteen-page appendix lists other notable essays and literary fiction published in 2014. Several jumped out as ones to look up sometime: Culture Wars: The case against repatriating museum art. Raised by trees. Prologues to a life of storywriting. Citi bikes changed my life. On how, to become knowledge, cognition needs beauty. The childhood of the reader. A manifesto against authors writing for free. Other essays in the long list also may strike a chord, but it is impossible to tell from such neutral titles as It's Complicated, Boxed In, and Black Marks.

  • Maureen Stanton
    2019-03-27 09:43

    This collection is so-so. One problem is choosing an editor with an affiliation to the New Yorker, but with no clause that she then must refrain from choosing other writers affiliated with that publication. (It is standard to prohibit submissions to literary contests and awards by those who have a tie to judges, so why shouldn't BEA assure a fair vetting by prohibiting cronyism?) So the four NYer pieces in this collection, IMHO, are among the weakest in the batch. Malcolm Gladwell's contribution is not even an essay; there is no use of "I" anywhere in this short article; it's a work of magazine journalism so doesn't belong in the collection since it's neither an "essay" nor is it "best." Hilton Als' piece is unreadable (self-indulgent experimental attempt at lyrical essay?) There are one or two standout pieces (Zadie Smith's essays are always rich and intriguing), Tiffany Briere's essay "Vision" is interesting, Megan Daum's piece is worth reading, but the rest are fairly forgettable, even by authors I admire (i.e., Anthony Doerr, Sven Birkerts). Rebecca Solnit's piece is unreadable (try as I might, I cannot get through anything Solnit writes), and Cheryl Strayed's very short piece, "My Uniform" has her characteristic voice-driven panache but lacks depth. I always hope that when the BEA comes out each year, there will be a few pieces that will be stunning and unforgettable, and usually there are one or two, or in some past years, even three or four. But this year's collection lacks a single essay that rises to that level. I know those fantastic essays are out in the world, but unfortunately they didn't end up in this collections.

  • Yifei Men
    2019-04-16 07:44

    This is a strong anthology of essays that I enjoyed overall. All the essays were short enough to be read in one sitting, which is my preferred way for reading essays. There are a few trusty big name crowd-pleasers in the mix -- Malcolm Gladwell with his cogent, well-argued piece on social status and immigration; Zadie Smith's drifting, whimsical meditation on Manhattan; David Sedaris' self-deprecating tale of enslavement to Fitbit. My personal favorite goes to Solonit's "Arrival Gates," a lyrical essay penned at the Japanese shrime Fushimi Inari-taisha. I am not a stranger to Solonit's prolific writings, many of which lyrical and travel-related, but this essay struck a particular chord with me, its peaceful reverence and acceptance had a lulling, entrancing draw, creating Solonit's own trance, lost in the the presence of time. There are others, who despite their longstanding fame, are new voices to me -- Roger Angell's hugely entertaining essay "This Old Man" has one of the most enduring, memorable opening voice that I can recall. My only complaint, which is also voiced by other readers, is that this collection is heavy on the topic of aging and mortality. This perhaps reflect the corpus of work in 2015, with the aging of the boomer population, and the noteworthy works of writers like Hitchens and Didion circling the imminent passing of life. But as a celebration of the best essays of our time, I wished for a little optimism, a little more color and diversity.

  • Alan
    2019-04-03 10:21

    This series (Best American Essays) is terrific and the 2015 edition was good, not great. Essays these days feature a lot of story telling and address very personal topics - coming out of the closet, experiencing racial prejudice, growing old, having a violent lover, and having a grandmother who poisons people. There were some traditional essays that explored a topic in sociology, like Malcolm Gladwell's piece on the mafia vs drug dealers and also Zadie Smith's discussion of urban atmosphere. My favorites were the ones about growing old - Roger Angell's, This old man, and Mark Jacobsen's, 65. Every year I find an author in this anthology who entices me to read more of and this year it is Mark Jacobsen, who writes an easy going, light hearted prose about the kind of every day experiences that interest me. Some of these essays were TMI on intense topics and I skipped pages. Others were so engaging I felt like I was just having a conversation with the author, such as Kate Lebo, the Loudproof Room and Tim Kreider, A Man and his Cat. There is a David Sedaris essay - great as always - and one by Cheryl Strayed - also good. Anthony Doerr, whose novel just won a Pulitzer Prize, has a terrific essay here. A reader will find many of the best American authors in these pages, providing a feast of good personal and informative writing on a variety of topics.

  • Maggie VanDyke
    2019-03-25 14:30

    There are many thought-provoking essays in this collection that can serve as fodder for meaningful conversations. There's Irving Berlin's "..Message to the 21st Century." Berlin proposes that many of the atrocities of the 20th century were caused primarily by ideas (ie, faith in or reaction against "isms" like fascism and communism) Berlin writes: "If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise." Read the whole essay for yourself here: Malcolm Gladwell's essay "The Crooked Ladder" makes you think twice about the role of the mob in society: I also loved Anthony Doerr's "Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul." You can't read it online without a subscription to Granta. After telling the life of a pioneer family in Idaho, he discusses the importance of stories in our lives: "What does not last, if they are not retold, are the stories. Stories need to be resurrected, revivified, reimagined; otherwise they get bundled with us into our graves ... "

  • Corbin
    2019-04-07 13:32

    This book is a great primer for some of the best (and almost best) essay writing to come out in recent years. I got this book because I wanted to familiarize myself with the genre and see what it has to offer. And I have to say, this book is a great start. Obviously, not all of the essays are perfect and a few are surprisingly short (Cheryl Strayed's "My Uniform" is just under 2 pages!), which makes absorbing them difficult because they're often cryptic and hard to digest on first read. Some essays that stood out to me were: "Scenes from a Life in Negroland" by Margo Jefferson, "The Crooked Ladder" by Malcolm Gladwell (or anything by Gladwell, really), "My Grandma the Poisoner" by John Reed, "Reflections on Indexing My Lynching Book" by Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, and "It Will Look Like a Sunset" by Kelly Sundberg (this one was a tough read but worth it for what Sundberg has to say). There were also essays that felt meandering and pointless to read, but that's just what I think. I won't list my least favorite essays because I don't find it worthwhile and someone may find them much better to read than I did. Still, if you want a good collection of contemporary essay writing without having to look too far, this is a good book for you.

  • Ceruleancat
    2019-03-25 06:28

    Honestly, I'd given up on Best American Essays. I used to teach using the yearly collection, with the thinking being that I would be showing my students the cutting edge exemplars of great writing. And it was great writing, but it was also, to an essay, impossibly depressing. I remember one from a few years ago where the author was a nurse, describing handling dead babies, and my students and I sat in class together with this heaviness. This was not fun, and I wanted them to have fun, to enjoy words. This collection has (almost) restored my faith in the series. There are humorous ones (David Sedaris and the essay about the cat), essays on aging (gracefully or not), race, and all aspects of life. The standouts to me are, of course, Rebecca Solnit's "Arrival Gates", Roger Angell's "This Old Man", "My Daughter and God" and well, honestly, there are many more hits than misses in this collection. Some of them are somber, but avoid the maudlin depths of angst, and a great range of thought--the "Negroland" essay's take on race laid next to "Reflections on Indexing My Lynching Book" capture both unspoken sides of the African American experience. A very enjoyable read--I may put in to teach the course again, with this as our reader.

  • Kate
    2019-04-11 09:29

    "I was the ad for what she already had.""It's an ad for beer, which makes you happy in the special way of all intoxicants, by reshaping reality around a sensation you alone are having. So, even more precisely, the ad means 'Go have a beer and let it make you happy.'"“The focus is narrow, almost obsessive. Everything that is not absolutely necessary to your happiness has been removed from the visual horizon. The dream is not only of happiness, but happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it’s conceived as a peculiar form of duty.”"Extinction's Alp"“In England even at the actual beach I cannot find my beach.”"A reality shaped around your own desires--there is something sociopathic in that ambition.""You have to crush so many things with your mind vise just to get through the day."