“Writing an essay is like catching a wave,” posits guest editor Ariel Levy. “To catch a wave, you need skill and nerve, not just moving water.” This year’s writers are certainly full of nerve, and have crafted a wide range of pieces awash in a diversity of moods, voices, and stances. Leaving an abusive marriage, parting with a younger self, losing your sanity to Fitbit, and even saying goodbye to a beloved pair of pants imbued with meaning are all unified by the daring of their creation. As Levy notes, “Writing around an idea you think is worthwhile—an idea you suspect is an insight—requires real audacity.”
The Best American Essays 2015 includes
Hilton Als, Roger Angell, Justin Cronin, Meghan Daum, Anthony Doerr, Margo Jefferson, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit and others
ARIEL LEVY, guest editor, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2008. She received the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism for her piece “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” which she is expanding into a book for Random House. Female Chauvinist Pigs, Levy’s first book, has been translated into seven languages. She teaches at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and at Wesleyan University.
ROBERT ATWAN, the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986, has published on a wide variety of subjects, from American advertising and early photography to ancient divination and Shakespeare. His criticism, essays, humor, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous periodicals nationwide.
Assembled by New Yorker staff writer Levy (Female Chauvinist Pigs), the 30th Best American Essays collection maintains the series' standards of excellence. The 22 contributors explore a wide range of experiences, with the theme of aging taking an especially prominent part. Ninety-three-year-old Roger Angell's "This Old Man," about the trials of old age, is poignant, funny, and surprisingly reassuring. Mark Jacobson's (mostly) humorous observations in "Sixty-Five: Learning to Love Middle Old Age" have a similar effect. It is a sheer pleasure to read David Sedaris, still funny but less excitable, describe a life-affirming relationship with his Fitbit in "Stepping Out." Also worth noting is Malcolm Gladwell's "The Crooked Ladder," a novel take on capitalism and institutional racism as seen through a comparison of Italian-American and African-American criminal enterprises. Novelist Justin Cronin covers the aftermath of his wife and daughter's near-fatal car accident, Anthony Doerr imagines the lives of the first family to settle in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, and Kelly Sundberg writes movingly about living through domestic violence. These and many of the other selections offer illuminating, invaluable glimpses into lives that might otherwise remain outside the reader's ken.