Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Best American Essays 2011

Just got my hands on a copy today. Haven't had a chance to read through it yet (except for Robert Atwan's foreword, which is actually pretty great). I'll probably try and put together a more comprehensive look at the anthology, but I wanted to put this post in as a chance for some preliminary conversation: Does BAE give us an accurate representation of the Essay? Will the "Notable Essays" section continue to be more interesting? Will magazines outside of New York get more recognition? Let me know what y'all are thinking and I can try to talk about it more in an upcoming review.


  1. Looking at the Table of Contents, half of the essays come from what I'd consider "literary journals," making it already a more interesting selection than last year's edition, which was basically "New York Review of Books Digest."

    But I don't think BAE gives any more of an accurate representation of The Essay than BASS does in representing The Short Story. How could an arbitrary selection of 20 essays or stories ever represent the health or possibilities of a genre anyway? Is that what we read "Best" books for anyway? Wondering...

  2. Good question, and I actually don't know why I always want to put so much weight into the collection, why I want it to be all encompassing. I like to think of the foreword/introduction every year as some kind of State of the Essay address, but I don't know if that's even a fair assessment of what it's trying to do. Either way, it does seem like there's more variety, which is something.

  3. My impression is that Atwan is trying to broaden the scope of the Notables, at any rate, to better account for the heterogeneity of the contemporary essay, which is a plus. Beyond that, what's picked is--as usual, I imagine--just what the final judge liked or believed in or was the most excited about at that very moment. There's no dispassionate selection process. It's hard for me to ascribe much more meaning to it than the judge's preference. (I recognize that the name of the series automatically confers a halo on it, and brings controversy; that seems all to the good to me.)

    I'll post back once I take a look at this year in particular; I have my copy but have other, more immediate reading calling me.

    (As an aside, I now have every year's BAE anthology on a shelf and plan on doing some better analysis of them at some point. I've been really enjoying reading the older editions, partly because there's no sense of oh, who got in, who got left out, did any of my friends or enemies get Notabled or included, etc., and that pad of time allows for a more dispassionate perambulation through its pages.)