The Best American Essays 2005

Ed. Atwan, Robert; Orlean, Susan
Houghton Mifflin 2005
ISBN 0-618-35713-0
292pp
Date finished: 2006-03-29

I usually find the "Best American Essays" series to be a mixed bag, with some essays that are good, some unremarkable, some simperingly obnoxious, and some just unreadable. 2005's selection is mostly a good one, with only one unreadable essay, the stunningly dull "Against Exercise", and a few clunkers such as the relentlessly namedropping "La Vie en Rose". "Small Rooms in Time" is amazingly self-centered; when a teenager is murdered in a house the essayist once lived in years before, the essayist goes off on reflections about how this event has tainted his memory of the house. How thoughtless of that person to get themselves shot!

Four of the essays could have gone into the "Best Science & Nature Writing" collection. Danielle Ofri's "Living Will" worries about a doctor's obligations to a suicidal patient. "Speed", by Oliver Sacks, discusses the neurology of human perception of time and patients who have radically slowed or speeded-up perceptions. "Joyas Voladoras", by Brian Doyle, considers hearts and hummingbirds. Finally, David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" starts out as a visit to the Maine Lobster Festival and turns into a consideration of tourism (as usual, DFW doesn't like it) and wondering whether lobsters feel pain when you boil them. It's a surprising issue to discuss in an article originally commissioned by Gourmet magazine, and I'd love to see the subsequent letter columns. On the edge of this group, Cathleen Schine's "Dog Trouble" is a sad account of questioning, "What do you do when your dog bites, and has personality problems, and is dangerous? How far does your responsibility to the animal go?" She did the right thing, but the right thing can sometimes be painful.

Other good pieces:

A good collection.

Tagged: essays

Permalink: http://books.amk.ca/2006/03/Best_American_Essays_2005.html

%T The Best American Essays 2005
%E Atwan, Robert
%E Orlean, Susan
%@ 2006-03-29
%D 2005
%K essays
%I Houghton Mifflin
%P 292pp
%G ISBN 0-618-35713-0

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