The Best American Essays – 2015 edition – edited by Ariel Levy
According to the series editor, Robert Atwan, “The Best American Essays features a selection of the year’s outstanding essays, essays of literary achievement that show an awareness of craft and forcefulness of thought.” Now in its 30th year, this popular series starts with hundreds of essays gathered annually from a wide assortment of national and regional publications. These essays are then screened, and about one hundred are turned over to a distinguished guest editor (this year Ariel Levy, a staff writer at The New Yorker), who may add a few personal discoveries and who makes the final selections. This year, the volume contains 22 essays covering a wide range of topics.
One big topic is aging. In Roger Angell’s essay “This Old Man” from The New Yorker, underlying all his complaining is a current that mixes humor, sadness, cantankerousness, and wisdom. He’s 93. His essay starts: “Check me out. The top two knuckles of my left hand look as if I’d been worked over by the KGB…. To put this another way, if I pointed that hand at you like a pistol and fired at your nose, the bullet would nail you in the left knee. Arthritis.”
We get a glimpse of his “oceanic force and mystery” of loss – he has outlived most of his friends, family, and contemporaries, including a daughter (who took her own life) and also his wife of 48 years. The amazing thing about getting old, Angell tells us, is that the “accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but sill stubbornly gleaming.”
In Marc Jacobson’s essay “65” from New York, he gives us a view of aging of the following generation – that of the baby boomers. There is no denying being old at 65, he writes: “Throughout my life, there has always been a number that sounded old. When I was sixteen, it was twenty-seven; at twenty-nine, it was forty-two; at thirty-eight, it was fifty-two. At sixty-five, however, it was sixty-five. After all, sixty-five is a longtime bullet-point mile marker along the Interstate of American Life, the product of uncounted hours of congressional backroom dealing and insurance-company probability charts.”
His epiphany is that “ear hair and all, I remain resolutely myself. I am the same me from my baby pictures, the same me who got laid for the first time in the bushes behind the high school field in Queens, the same me who drove a taxi through Harlem during the Frank Lucas days, the same me my children recognize as their father, the same me I was yesterday, except only more so by virtue of surviving yet another spin of the earth upon its axis.”
This year’s writers include Justin Cronin, Anthony Doerr, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Malcom Gladwell, and others. They have crafted a wide range of pieces, covering topics like leaving an abusive marriage, losing your sanity to Fitbit, the difference between thugs of the early 20th century compared to thugs of today.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, January 4. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, January 4 for a discussion of “2015 Best American Essays” at the Book Nook & Java Shop in downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome, and the Club meets the first Monday monthly all year long. 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.