Atwan’s annual series unfailingly delivers the highest quality writing, essays that display “literary [and] ruminative characteristics,” work that shows the “mind in process.”
This year’s editor, Edward Hoagland—a fine essayist in his own right—has collected essays by some of the best writers in the country: Joyce Carol Oates, Ian Frazier, Scott Russell Sanders, Mary Gordon, Dagoberto Gilb, David Quammen, and others. Hoagland echoes Atwan in noting that essays “simulate the mind’s own process.” He connects the current revival of the essay to that of the rage for personal memoir. (And he never once uses the phrase “creative nonfiction.”) Sanders’s marvelous piece tackles a traditional essay theme, as Hubble photographs and his daughter’s wedding spur musings on the origin of the cosmos and an examination of the concept of beauty. He is “certain that genuine beauty is not in my eye alone but out in the world.” In a startlingly revealing essay, “After Amnesia,” Joyce Carol Oates recalls a “humiliating experience” that occurred while she was touring a New Jersey detention center. Gordon’s personal essay relates the opening of a Bonnard exhibit at MOMA at the same time that her mother, in a nursing home, turns 90: “1 wonder if Bonnard could do anything with this lightless room.” John Lahr revisits his youth with his famous father, Bert, on the re-release of The Wizard of Oz and finds the ubiquitous commercialization of the Cowardly Lion “the enduring monument to Dad’s comic genius.” There’s also Joan Didion’s brilliant argument against the release of Hemingway’s unpublished work, Annie Dillard’s examination of religious belief, Gilb’s chance encounter with actress Victoria Principal, Toure’s boxing days at the Body and Soul Gym and Frazier’s delightful recollection of the “hundred pointless things we did in the woods” as 10-year-olds.
A feast of fine, important writing.