The Best American Essays

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  • Edition: 4th
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2003-07-21
  • Publisher: Wadsworth Publishing
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The college version ofThe Best American Essays,Fourth Edition, is a collection of essays for first-year composition courses, loosely arranged by broad aims of discourse, including narrative, informative, and argumentative essays. In addition to its rhetorical organization, the reader also offers flexibility for instructors who prefer a thematic or alphabetical organization. The editor introduces students to various types of essays, followed by commentary from well-known writers on such subjects as "Essayists Must Tell the Truth" and "Essays Are Not Scientific Documents." The "Essayists on the Essay" section features well-known writers sharing their perspectives on writing and reading essays. The section contains a collection of commentaries from the guest-editors of the trade series, including Annie Dillard, Joseph Epstein, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Justin Kaplan. Each selection is preceded by a biographical headnote and followed by a brief set of questions for class discussion or writing.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Encountering the Essay What Are Essays?
Essays and Articles Essays and Fiction
Essays and Memoir
The Five-Paragraph Essay
Can a Computer Evaluate an Essay?
The Essay and Risk
The Contemporary American Essay: A Diversity of Forms and Voices
The Essay and Public Events
The Essay in the Twenty-first Century
Prologue: Essayists on the Essay Justin Kaplan, What Is an Essay? Jamaica Kincaid
Resisting Definitions Alan Lightman
The Ideal Essay Ian Frazier
The Essay as Object Ian Frazier
The Essay as Action Annie Dillard
Essays and the Real World Joseph Epstein
No Standard Essay Susan Sontag
The Essay's Diversity Joyce Carol Oats
The Memorable Essay Justin Kaplan
The Author's Gumption Cynthia Ozick
Essays and the Imagination Cynthia Ozick
Essays Versus Articles Annie Dillard
Essays Versus Stories Annie Dillard
Essays Versus Poems Edward Hoagland
Essays Are Not Scientific Documents Susan Sontag
The Essayist's Defensiveness Joseph Epstein
On Being an Essayist Geoffrey Wolff
Essayists Must Tell the Truth Susan Sontag
The Essayist's Voice Tracy Kidder
The Demands of the First Person Singular Geoffrey Wolff
The "Who Cares?" Factor Stephen Jay Gould
What "Confessional Writing"
Must Do Edward Hoagland
How the Essayist Acquires Authority Joseph Epstein
The Conversational Style Kathleen Norris
The Essay as Dialogue Tracy Kidder
The Attractions of Autobiography Elizabeth Hardwick
The Essayist's Audience Susan Sontag
Essays Start Out in Magazines Gay Talese
On Certain Magazine Interviews Gay Talese
Listening to People Think Elizabeth Hardwick
On the Subjects of Essays Annie Dillard
The Essay's Unlimited Possibilities
1. The Personal Voice: Identity, Diversity, Self-Discovery Anwar F. Accawi
The Telephone "When I was growing up in Magdaluna, a small
Lebanese village in the terraced, rocky mountains east of Sidon, time didn't mean much to anybody, except maybe to those who were dying, or those waiting to appear in court because they had tampered with the boundary markers on their land." Marcia Aldrich, Hair
"In maturity, I'm incapable of assuming a coherent or consistent philosophy
I have wayward hair: it's always becoming something else."
Judith Ortiz Cofer, Silent Dancing
"The men drank Palo Viejo rum, and some of the younger ones got weepy
The first time I saw a grown man cry was at a Year's
Eve party: he had been reminded of his mother by the smells in the kitchen."
Edwidge Danticat, Westbury Court
"Though there was graffiti on most of the walls of Westbury
Court, and hills of trash piled up outside, and though the elevator wasn't always there when we opened the door to step inside and the heat and hot water weren't always on, I never dreamed of leaving Westbury
Court until the year of the fire." Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,
In the Kitchen "Everybody I knew as a child wanted to have good hair
You could be as ugly as homemade sin dipped in misery and still be thought attractive if you had good hair
" Lucy Grealy, Mirrorings "I once thought that truth was eternal, that when you understood something it was with you forever
I know now that this isn't so, that most truths are inherently unretainable, that we have to work hard all our lives to remember the most basic things." Yusef Komunyakaa
The Blue Machinery of Summer
"Did education mean moving from one class to the next?
My grandmothers told me again and again that one could scale a mountain with a good education
But could I still talk to them, to my parents, my siblings?
I would try to live in two worlds--at the very least
That was now my task." Rebecca McClanahan Book Marks
"What terrified me that late summer day was the sudden greenness of the trees, the way their beauty insinuated itself into my vision--peripherally at first, vaguely, and without my consent
I blinked to stop what felt like tears, which I hadn't tasted for so long
I'd forgotten that they were made of salt, that they were something my body was producing on its own, long after I thought
I had shut down. O.K.
I said to the steering wheel, the padded dashboard, the pines
If I can think of five reasons not to die
I won't." John McPhee, Silk Parachute
"It has been alleged that when I was in college she heard that I had stayed up all night playing poker and wrote me a letter that used the word 'shame' forty-two times
I do not recall this." Danielle Ofri, Merced "How could a young woman whom we had presumably cured, who had been so alive and healthy three days ago, be brain dead now?"
Scott Russell Sanders, The Inheritance of Tools
"The tools in my workbench are a double inheritance, for each hammer and level and saw is wrapped in a cloud of knowing."
Amy Tan, Mother Tongue "Language is the tool of my trade
And I use them all--all the Englishes I grew up with."
2. The Attentive Mind: Observation, Reflection, Insight Rudolph Chelminski, Turning Point
"A week before his twenty-sixth birthday, the nimble Petit clandestinely strung a cable between the not-yet-completed Twin Towers, already dominating Manhattan's skyline, and for the better part of an hour walked back and forth over the void, demonstrating his astonishing obsession to one hundred thousand or so wide-eyed gawkers gathered so far below."
Annie Dillard, The Stunt Pilot "Nothing on earth is more gladdening than knowing we must roll up our sleeves and move back the boundaries of the humanly possible once more."
Gretel Ehlrich, Spring "Last spring at this time I was coming out of a bout of pneumonia
I went to bed on January first and didn't get up until the end of February
Winter was a cocoon in which my gagging, basso cough shook the dark figures at the end of my bed
"Anne Fadiman Mail"
In October of 1998
I finally gave in and signed up for email
I had resisted for a long time
My husband and I were proud of our retrograde status
Not only did we lack a modem, but we didn't have a car, a microwave, a Cuisinart, an electric can opener, a cellular phone, a CD player, or cable television." Ian Frazier, A Lovely Sort of Lower Purpose
"What are you doing?
The question pursues me still
When I go fishing and catch no fish, the idea that it's fun simply to be out on the river consoles me for not one second
I must catch fish; and if I do
I must catch more and bigger fish
" Edward Hoagland, Heaven and Nature
"People with sunny natures do seem to live longer than people who are nervous wrecks; yet mankind didn't evolve out of the animal kingdom by being unduly sunny-minded
" Ann Hodgman, No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch "I've always wondered about dog food
Is a Gaines-burger really like a hamburger?
" Barry Lopez, The Stone Horse "I waited until I held his eye
I assured him
I would not tell anyone else how to get there
He looked at me with stoical despair, like a man who has been robbed twice, whose belief in human beings was offered without conviction
"Joyce Carol Oates, They All Just Went Away
"As a woman and a writer, I have long wondered at the wellsprings of female masochism
Or what, in despair of a more subtle, less reductive phrase, we can call the congeries of predilections toward self-hu
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