Review of The Best American Essays (2002)
America has always had an obsession with the best – the best song, the best car, the best coffee pot – you catch my drift. So It comes as no surprise then, that there would be a book published The Best American Essays [of 2002]. Within it, Editor Stephan Jay Gould compiles a list of the top 24 essays written in 2001. Some of the essays focus on the major issues of 2001: the tragedy of 9/11 or the lack of a “true” culture in today’s society. Others focus on more personal issues like a father and son healing their relationship. While I did not enjoy all of the essays in the book, each one brought the author’s thoughts and emotions to life, capturing a picture of a crucial moment within the author’s life during that year.
Jacques Barzun’s essay, The Tenth Muse, questions the definition of a “pop culture” of the times. He argues today no one true culture represents the heart and minds of the people. Rather it has been subdivided into too many categories for any one to represent all of America’s hopes, dreams and morals. He also points out that today industries are more focused on outdoing one another then representing society’s morals. If songs, movies, and magazines, about drugs, alcohol, and sex sell best, then that is what gets published, moral or not. Barzun defends his stance on America’s lack of culture, using many past examples, he juxtaposes true culture with or lack of culture. He leaves his readers questioning if today’s competitive industries are actually harming society rather than helping it.
In the essay Winner Take Nothing, Bernard Cooper explains his difficult relationship with a father who never really understood his career choice and an argument that spanned three years. Bernard’s father, a lawyer, never really approved of his son’s career choice, always questioning him on much money he was making. When an argument over raised voices and “who can tell who what to do” causes a three year silence between Bernard and his father, Bernard gives up all hope of reconciling. Only when his father calls him to notify him that he is selling the house, and asks Bernard to come get his old photos and drawings does he see his chance to reconnect with his father. While his father does not come straight out and apologize for the argument so many years ago, Bernard gets the message loud and clear. In his essay, Bernard is able to depict a proud, old man who doesn’t quite know how to say sorry, yet does it the best way he knows how – through cake and frosting.
--by Sara Diltz