THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 1998

August writers and intimations of mortality mark this year’s fine collection in this annual series. In her introduction, novelist and master essayist Ozick (Fame and Folly, 1996, The Puttermesser Papers; 1997; etc.) writes with characteristic firmness of the “living voice” of the essay. Maybe it’s due to the coming of the end of the century, to the ages of these writers, or to Ms. Ozick’s own personal outlook, but the voices bending our ears this year are often settled yet still in awe of humanity. Ian Frazier finds Queens, New York, a kaleidoscope of hopes; Brian Doyle is moved by the force of the Catholic Church; Sven Birkerts explores the “transformative” power of the act of reading, and more. Nearly without exception, the writing in the essays is so good that if you love the genre, you almost have to sit before the words and be happy. The rub? As in some previous years, it’s the presence of many more Sure-to-Please Masters than Newer Writers Deserving Attention, as well as the high representation of Well-known magazines in the volume. Though who can truly quibble with a lineup that includes Coetzee, Kincaid, and McPhee, and that culls from the New Yorker and other estimable venues? It’s just that while essay fans read such collections to revisit old friends, most of us also hope to find stunning work from little-known writers and magazines. For instance, it’s pleasing to be introduced to Anwar F. Accawi, who details with finality the wreck of his Lebanese village by modernity in “The Telephone,” and to get a smattering from less-mined journals like Alaska Quarterly Review. Someday, please, more of the new and less of the old. For an angrier, more confessional, or more reportorial mix, we—ve been put on hold.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-86051-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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