The Best American Essays 2007 David Foster Wallace

The 2007 edition of the now-venerable series.

With characteristic humor and self-abasement, guest editor Wallace is an excellent guide to this year’s goodie bag of magazine-length nonfiction, noting up front that most series readers jump around in a nonlinear fashion. Although he promises a sharper political edge to this year’s selections—and no celebrity profiles—only a few fall into that category. Phillip Robertson’s “In the Mosque of the Imam Ali,” a breathless account of the author’s attempt to survive in an Iraq hurtling into Year Zero ultra-violence, ranks with Michael Herr’s exemplary Vietnam War reportage. Mark Danner’s “Iraq: The War of the Imagination” is an excellent summation of the stunning mix of incompetence and hubris that led to the current war. There is also “An Orgy of Power,” George Gessert’s passionate screed against the brutalization of the American mindset in the post-9/11 era, and Garret Keizer’s controversial “Loaded,” in which he breaks the domestic liberal code of silence on guns and political action: “Give me some people who are not so evolved that they have forgotten what it is to stand firm under fire…Give me an accountant who can still throw a rock.” Even among the lighter pieces, there’s a darkness scurrying around the edges, like in Richard Rodriguez’s “Disappointment,” an illuminating essay on the state’s illusory dreamlands, or Malcolm Gladwell’s sublime New Yorker piece on Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Millan, in which tales of simple obedience training carry a cutting psychoanalytic edge. Remarkably, this year’s collection contains no outright duds, though a few pieces maunder a bit (e.g., Mark Greif’s foggy dissertation on the commercialized eroticization of youth, “Afternoon of the Sex Children”). Among all these impressive essays, though, the best is Daniel Orozco’s extraordinary “Shakers,” which merges an earthquake’s progress with a series of snapshot takes on American travelers and loneliness (“The middle of nowhere is always somewhere for somebody”).

Reliable and yet still surprising—the best of the best.

The twenty-two essays in this powerful collection -- perhaps the most diverse in the entire series -- come from a wide variety of periodicals, ranging from n + 1 and PMS to the New Republic and The New Yorker, and showcase a remarkable range of forms. Read on for narrative -- in first and third person -- opinion, memoir, argument, the essay-review, confession, reportage, eThe twenty-two essays in this powerful collection -- perhaps the most diverse in the entire series -- come from a wide variety of periodicals, ranging from n + 1 and PMS to the New Republic and The New Yorker, and showcase a remarkable range of forms. Read on for narrative -- in first and third person -- opinion, memoir, argument, the essay-review, confession, reportage, even a dispatch from Iraq. The philosopher Peter Singer makes a case for philanthropy; the poet Molly Peacock constructs a mosaic tribute to a little-known but remarkable eighteenth-century woman artist; the novelist Marilynne Robinson explores what has happened to holiness in contemporary Christianity; the essayist Richard Rodriguez wonders if California has anything left to say to America; and the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson attempts to find common ground with the evangelical community.

In his introduction, David Foster Wallace makes the spirited case that “many of these essays are valuable simply as exhibits of what a first-rate artistic mind can make of particular fact-sets -- whether these involve the 17-kHz ring tones of some kids’ cell phones, the language of movement as parsed by dogs, the near-infinity of ways to experience and describe an earthquake, the existential synecdoche of stagefright, or the revelation that most of what you’ve believed and revered turns out to be self-indulgent crap.”...more

Paperback, 307 pages

Published October 10th 2007 by Mariner Books

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