It is exceedingly difficult to rate an anthology with any more than three stars, because almost inevitably there will be some essays I love and some I despise (or rather, that bore me so to death that I don't even dignify them with a complete read).
His meandering, pretentious introduction is a painful reminder of just how much David Foster Wallace's brilliance, wit, and low tolerance for bullshit will be missed (DFW was last year's editor). Brilliant: Anthony Lane on the Leica camera; Hugh Raffles on cricket fighting in Shanghai Engaging: Atul Gawande on geriatric medicine; Emily Grosholz on necklaces Moving personal reminiscence: separate essays by Patricia Brieschke and Bernard Cooper, though be warned that each documents the horrific suffering of a terminally ill child and life-partner respectively. Personal reminiscence that was only mildly amusing: Ariel Levy ("The lesbian bride's handbook"); David Sedaris mining his adolescence for yuks according to his standard formula (if you've read any of his previous books, you probably could have written the essay yourself) Personal reminiscence that, although I know that I was supposed to be moved, just came across as whiny, self-pitying and ultimately annoying: Lauren Slater (mommy issues and homesickness at summer camp: when she started "shuddering with grief", I lost interest) and - hey - I'm sorry that Lee Zacharias's father shot himself and that she seems to be obsessing about vultures, but I think her interspersed flashbacks about her family and assorted vulture/buzzard facts were just creepily embarrassing, and certainly no fun to read. THIS makes it into the top 21 essays of the year. It's roughly twice the length of the Gopnik disappointment, and is introduced by Jacob Weisberg.
These twenty essays were considered the best of the year. I thoroughly enjoy most essays and this kind of collection. If you are interested in learning a lot of odd facts, told to you by some excellent authors, I recommend any of these "best of" collections.
This is the second year in a row I have enjoyed the editor's writing better than his editing/collecting judgment. This year's is better, but I still would rather read Adam Gopnik than half of the essays in this collection.
It's funny, I didn't feel like any of the essays blew me away while I was reading them, but now that I look back on them, I can't help but think that my life would be a little duller if I hadn't read them.
This does not diminish the other varied and very interesting essays that followed.
My connection to a piece often has to do with the writer and Im on the hunt now for annotated bibliographies from Gawandes other writing in the hope that he, as a writer I vibe with, can point me reliably toward other great sources.
I would love to have such clarity of hindsight), and Lee Zacharias's vulture essay.