THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2012

A trove of fine writing on big issues, albeit at the expense of more playful exemplars of the contemporary essay.

Well-told pieces on a narrow range of subjects define the latest iteration of the Best American Essays franchise.

This year’s batch of selections tends toward informative—sometimes wonkish—works of reportage and memoir. That should come as no surprise given that proudly egghead-ish New York Times columnist Brooks is doing the selecting. (As ever, series editor Robert Atwan performs the initial cull.) Brooks makes his intentions clear in his introduction, writing that “I want to be improved by the things I read”—much of which includes writing on medicine and health care: Eight of the 25 selections deal with the topic in some matter—nine if you include Jonathan Franzen’s “Farther Away,” featuring some musings on his friend David Foster Wallace’s depression and suicide. Some writers attack the subject in dry expository prose, as in Marcia Angell’s “The Crazy State of Psychiatry,” which condemns the overdiagnosis of mood disorders. More often, though, the topic gets a personal touch, as in Miah Arnold’s “You Owe Me,” an essay on teaching writing to children in a cancer ward, or David J. Lawless’ brutal recollection of his wife’s descent into Alzheimer’s, “My Father/My Husband,” masterfully told almost entirely in dialogue. America’s education system is another pressure point for Brooks, who picks a clutch of pieces on the subject, the best being Garret Keizer’s straight-talking memoir of his time teaching poor elementary school kids, “Getting Schooled.” The downside of Brooks’ improvement agenda means humor is in short supply, notwithstanding Sandra Tsing Loh’s raucous meditation on menopause, “The Bitch Is Back.” Provocation and invention are rare too, though Mark Doty’s beautifully turned “Insatiable” savvily merges the friendship between Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker with the author’s own obsessions and fetishes. Other notable contributors include Francine Prose, Joseph Epstein, Malcolm Gladwell and Alan Lightman.

A trove of fine writing on big issues, albeit at the expense of more playful exemplars of the contemporary essay.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-84009-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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