This year's volume confirms the status of this collection as my perennial favorite in the whole "Best American" series of anthologies. Whatever you might think of Dave Eggers, he redeems himself on an annual basis with this collection (this year, IMO, he has doubly redeemed himself, with the publication of the extraordinary "Zeitoun", but that's material for a whole 'nother review).
This collection is hard to sum up in a single sentence - one might think of it as an edgier - and more entertaining - version of the "Best American Essays". But a far better collection, because Eggers (and this year's guest editor, Marjane Satrapi) are savvy enough to cast a far broader net. So, for instance, in addition to standbys like "best craigslist ads", "best police blotter items", "best kids' letters to Obama", "best book titles published in 2008 (Baboon Metaphysics? Excrement in the late Middle Ages? anyone?), "best poem titles of 2008" (A Plea for the Cessation of Fruit Metaphors, I need more Cowbell, What your Dad's Underpants have to do with Space Travel, If my Life were a Radio, lately I would Prefer another Station, Why not Oysters?...), there are such fine contributions as Phillip Connors's "Diary of a Fire Lookout", Anne Gisleson's "Your exhausted Heart" (about the Saturn Bar in new Orleans), Denis Johnson's "Boomtown Iraq", Jonathan Franzen's tribute to David Foster Wallace, excellent pieces by Rivka Galchen, Rebekah Bliss, Eula Biss, and Susan Breen.
This partial list doesn't include the three or four charming picture essays, nor the five or six other equally good pieces by authors like Nick Flynn, David Grann and Amelia Kahaney.
I can do no better than to paraphrase what I wrote about the 2008 volume - this is writing that informs me about stuff that I would otherwise not encounter, brilliantly executed by authors whose worldview extends - praise the Lord - beyond their own navels. Like a bunch of exotically flavored Dove bars - unfamiliar at first, but reliably delicious. Material that takes you outside of your comfort zone, in the best possible way.
4.5 stars, which I think deserve to be rounded up to 5, because the percentage of dross in this collection is very low indeed. As always, if you find yourself in the bookstore, faced with the entire gamut of the "Best American XXX 2009" series, and you have only $14 to spend, there's no question about it - this is the one you should pick. (Or you could order it here on Amazon, of course)
I don't know what it is we have against Dave Eggers anyway. With this series alone, he has surely exonerated himself from any residual blame that might result from the youthful indiscretion that was - well, you know the one I'm talking about. That staggering book ...
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