I'm about halfway through this year's Best American Essays, so maybe this is unfair of me to say, but so far the individual essays have all felt exactly the same: they all seem heavily researched, which isn't a bad thing, but they rely so much on content (as opposed to voice, a new perspective on the narrator based on the research, etc) that they aren't necessarily compelling unless you are interested in the subject matter. Even the subjects, for the most part have felt similar: writing about the lives of writers/academics--there's been an essay looking at Tolstoy, another on Einstein, one on Isenberg's visits with four different scholars/writers that might need an entirely different post to articulate why it shouldn't be anywhere near a Best American anything, an essay on Montaigne, an essay opening on a scene with Nabokov...
This isn't to mention the fact that it's mostly essays written by men, and that a majority of the collection is made up of essays from the bigger magazines like Harper's, The Atlantic, The New Yorker or NY Times Book Review or any other publication with 'New York' in the title. Meanwhile, a majority of the notable essays are from a more diverse set of smaller journals/publications.
Anyway, none of this should come as a surprise (the big magazines always have a significant representation in the Best American series), but it does have me questioning the purpose of the Best American anthology, and why so many similar essays would be put into a collection where there were a lot of opportunities for a variety of voices and content. Here's a couple theories:
1) In my mind, the anthology should be a venue for highlighting the diversity of a genre in terms of style and content (for many readers, this might be the only time all year they pick up a collection of essays, or short stories, or whatever). Furthermore, it seems like a wider variety of journals/publications would be ideal, especially when they could give attention to lesser known writing venues and writers that would benefit from the distinction, but it doesn't seem like that's necessarily the mission of the series.
2) It's simply a venue for that year's editor (in this case, Christopher Hitchens) to put forth the writing they're most interested in. If an editor were particularly interested in, say, reading profiles on famous writers, then they could go ahead and publish fifteen of them and call it a day.
3) It's an opportunity for that year's editor to set forth an agenda/message on where they see the genre heading, or what they'd like to see more of, or something along those lines.
Anyway, I don't want this to sound like a rant about me not agreeing with Hitchens' choices as an editor, but I'm honestly curious as to what people see as the purpose of this type of anthology.