Back then the back cover of the annual volume listed the contributors in alphabetical order, in lovely crisp 12-point type, and when I got the actual book in the mail, in my greedy inky hands, I pawed through the whole thing (actually reading guest editor Cynthia Ozick’s terrific essay first before looking for my own, a rare case of sense temporarily defeating selfishness), savoring the typeface and the shocking fact that my long wandering essay on being an altar boy was between essays by J.M. Coetzee and Andre Dubus, and digging the remarkable blue-green cover, and thinking confused and jumbled thoughts about being an essayist, and having reached, in some sense, a pinnacle or peak or apex or zenith as an essayist, and pondering all the thousands of people who would pick up this volume and read my piece and wonder who the hell is Brian Doyle?, and other such interesting thoughts, and then I drove home, to my lovely wife and three small children, and whereas the kids were five and three and three years old, things were chaotic and harried at dinner, but we got everyone to bed eventually, and I did the dishes, and my lovely wife did the laundry, and then I insisted on opening a good bottle of wine, ceremoniously, so as to milk the whole celebratory thing of being in Best American Essays between Coetzee and Dubus, and with great flair and panache and pride I handed the volume to my lovely bride, who exclaimed and exulted in deeply satisfying fashion, and hugged me and kissed me, and she was really and truly delighted, she is a most genuine and emotionally open soul, and then, as we sipped our excellent wine, she pawed through the book too, and finally flipped it over and read down the list of contributors, in alphabetical order, and then she said, unforgettably, this:
“Wow – Saul Bellow, Joseph Epstein, Ian Frazier, Edward Hoagland, Jamaica Kincaid, William Maxwell, John McPhee, Mary Oliver, Oliver Sacks, John Updike….Brian Doyle? Doesn’t that sound funny? Bellow, Updike, Doyle?”
That’s what I remember best, her absolute honest innocent question, and my instant urge to shout “NO THAT DOES NOT SOUND FUNNY! THAT SOUNDS TOTALLY COOL AND RIGHT AND AWESOME AND I AM A GOLDEN ESSAY GOD!” But by happy chance, and perhaps for once a modicum of grace granted me by a merciful fate, I did not shout those words, because suddenly I realized that she was right, and it was ridiculous to be in the same sentence with Saul Bellow and Mary Oliver, and I burst out laughing, and she did too, and we laughed so hard we woke up one of the twins, who took about an hour to wrestle back to bed. Then we finished our wine and went to bed too, grinning.
Brian Doyle’s most recent books are the essay collections Reading in Bed and So Very Much the Best of Us.