LITERATURE

The Best American Essays 2019

Houghton Harcourt. (Best American). Oct. 2019. 256p. ed. by ed. by Rebecca Solnit & Robert Atwan. ISBN 9781328465801. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781328467119. LIT
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Appropriately assembled for a difficult year closing a contentious decade, the selections here focus almost exclusively on issues pulled straight from the headlines: climate change, racism, gun violence, political resistance and its backlashes, the #metoo and Incel movements, mental health challenges. A strong representation of work by women, LGBTQ and indigenous writers, and authors of color offers a multiplicity of voices. And while editors Solnit (Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises [and Essays]) and Atwan (Convergences: Method, Message, Medium) take the series title’s mandate to heart, featuring authors of primarily U.S. and Canadian origin, excellent contributions from Rabih Alameddine and Masha Gessen bring non-North American–born viewpoints to the mix. The entries offer an often dark picture of current concerns, yet as pointed as the topics are, the best pieces shine at demonstrating what the essay form itself can do—connect and strengthen multiple ideas, move from the general to the particular and back again. As J. Drew Lanham writes in his standout piece contrasting species extinction with the history of slavery, “[T]he whole of all of us becomes compromised in the loss of some of us.”
VERDICT A worthwhile series installment that should not only interest contemporary readers but also hold a place in the historical record.

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