The Best American Essays 2010
The essays in this year's anthology – edited by Christopher Hitchens – are both varied and bold.
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A fair number of the essays in this year’s “Best American Essays” are about other essayists. Besides Montaigne and George Orwell, the late William F. Buckley Jr. is remembered in a moving reminiscence by Garry Wills. Ian McEwan’s clear-eyed appraisal of John Updike seems like the kind of prose that Updike, an exemplar of clarity in his own essays, would have admired.Skip to next paragraph
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All of this shoptalk in “Best American Essays 2010” can seem a little self-referential, like one of those closed literary communities in which modern poets spend so much of their time writing about other poets.
But the evocations of Updike, Buckley, and company in “Best American Essays” are a useful reminder that today’s practicing essayists hail from a genre with a long and distinguished tradition.
Beyond its hallowed past, is there a future for the personal essay?
In his introduction, Hitchens notes with regret that many of the magazines that publish great essays are now under economic stress. In his foreword, series editor Robert Atwan also acknowledges the changing publishing climate, but finds the prospects for the essay “very encouraging.”
Atwan has reason to be hopeful. In the 1950s, Clifton Fadiman predicted with regret that the personal essay was on the way out. In the 1980s, Lopate expressed similar worries over his genre of choice in a New York Times piece that queried, “What Happened to the Personal Essay?”
Lopate’s presence in this year’s anthology is a nice reminder that despite such chronic anxieties about its health, the essay seems just fine. Collectively, Lopate and his fellow contributors to “The Best American Essays 2010” seem to affirm Virginia Woolf’s wise admonition: “The essay is alive; There is no reason to despair.”