The Best American Essays 2000

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN 10: 0618035788 / ISBN 13: 9780618035786
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Synopsis: As this acclaimed series celebrates its fifteenth year, Alan Lightman, the best-selling author of Einstein's Dreams, has assembled a diverse, very personal collection of the year's best short nonfiction, writings that celebrate the essay as an independent genre unlike any other. In his introduction, he declares that the ideal essay is "not an assignment, to be dispatched efficiently and intelligently, but an exploration, a questioning, an introspection . . . It thrashes and moves, like all living things." These pieces embrace stylistic freedom and strong opinions while affording the reader a fascinating view of work in progress, offering a front-row seat as the writer's mind struggles with truth, memory, and experience.
This year's selection features extraordinary essays by such renowned writers as Mary Gordon, Edward Hoagland, Jamaica Kincaid, and Wendell Berry as well by some talented new voices, on a delightfully dizzying variety of subjects. Andre Aciman wrestles with memories of remembering Paris, and William H. Gass delivers an exuberant defense of the printed book as a safe port in the data storms of the information age. Peter Singer views world poverty with an ethicist's eye, and Andrew Sullivan maps the spread of hate crimes in America.
"The qualities I treasure most about these essays are their authenticity and life," Lightman writes. As this volume of THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS demonstrates, this unique literary form continues to thrive as a creative outlet for some of America's finest writers.

Review: Alan Lightman has put together a collection chock full of questioning and struggling. As he writes in his introduction: "For me, the ideal essay is not an assignment, to be dispatched efficiently and intelligently, but an exploration, a questioning, an introspection. I want to see a piece of the essayist. I want to see a mind at work, imagining, spinning, struggling to understand." The Best American Essays 2000 features the usual forays into memory (Fred D'Aguiar on his family), travelogue (Mary Gordon on Rome), and identity (Geeta Kothari on learning to eat like an American). But this guest editor has a marked fondness for essays that make the reader engage with ethical or philosophical problems. In an arresting piece, Peter Singer describes the Brazilian film Central Station, wherein a woman is promised a thousand dollars if she will deliver a homeless boy to a certain address. "She delivers the boy, gets the money, spends some of it on a television set, and settles down to enjoy her new acquisition." When she learns the boy will likely be killed and his organs sold for transplantation, she resolves to return the money and save him. Singer asks, "What is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one, knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?" He follows his logic to the end of the essay, where he concludes, "whatever money you're spending on luxuries, not necessities, should be given away."

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, struggles with the appellation "hate crime." He contrasts the gay-bashing murder of Matthew Shepard with the abduction of a girl by her boyfriend: "Which crime was more filled with hate? Once you ask the question, you realize how difficult it is to answer. Is it more hateful to kill a stranger or a lover? Is it more hateful to kill a child than an adult?" And physicist Steven Weinberg takes on the most infinite of domains, wondering "whether the universe shows signs of having been designed by a deity more or less like those of traditional monotheistic religions...." This kind of passionate questioning is the stuff of late-night bull sessions, something most of us don't have time for in our day-to-day lives. It's refreshing, for once, to be put on the spot. --Claire Dederer

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Title: The Best American Essays 2000
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Condition: Acceptable

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