The Best American Essays and other titles in its series allow a public library to provide a diverse range of high-quality and award-winning articles, essays, and stories that expands the purchase power of its periodicals budget. The library couldn’t possibly have it all, and many journals are regional or associated with specific foundation memberships. Magazines selected for browsing collections in the public library include a pleasant mix of popular titles for entertainment, news, and practical how-to information, nationally respected titles along the lines of The New Yorker plus national and regional literary gems such as The Oxford American and the Virginia Quarterly Review. These fine essays come from many that our library doesn’t carry, including Harvard Review, The North American Review, Portland Magazine, The Believer, and Orion.
I enjoyed the essays as literary yet not scholarly, meant for a general reading public and on virtually any topic, light to dark, newsie to personal, straightforward or allegorical. An expert reader/editor has already picked the best of the best for me–and I found a number of thought-provoking stories in this collection I might never have seen otherwise. An unforgettable journalistic piece from Mother Jones titled “What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?” by Charlie LeDuff uncovers many layers of perspective on a Detroit homicide. Seven-year old Aiyana, asleep on her sofa, was shot by a police officer storming a home while on camera for one of those true-crime TV shows. In “Patient,” by Rachel Riederer, a college student recalls the devastating consequences of having her foot run over by a charter bus she was waiting in line for while partying with friends. “Lucky Girl” is a very chilling account of a 1960s illegal abortion and what it could have meant for author Bridget Potter if hers had been as botched as the majority of women without access to safe, legal medical care.
For this volume, published in 2011, the essays included are short-listed from 2010 publications sorted out by Series Editor Robert Atwan, then selected for this anthology by the annual’s Guest Editor. Scholarly thesis pieces that most of us would doze through need not be submitted. Some writers are up-and-coming while the collection also rewards many deserving veteran authors. Authors or editors mail their published works or publication subscriptions to the series editor who selects the best ones for presentation to the guest editor. Online publications are acceptable, but a printout of the piece must be mailed in order to be considered. This year, the editor is Edwidge Danticat, who won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008.
Look for The Best American Essays 2011 and other titles in The Best American series in the WRL catalog. In the series, you’ll find anthologies of comics, poetry, mystery writing, short stories, sports and travel writing, etc…, and even one titled Best American Nonrequired Reading!