Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads hundreds of pieces from dozens of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to the twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected — and most popular — of its kind.
From The New Yorker to The Georgia Review, from Esquire to The American Scholar, the editors of THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS have scoured hundreds of the country’s best periodicals in search of the most artful and powerful writing around. This thoughtful, provocative collection is the result of their search.
Paul Auster - Winter Journal
From the bestselling novelist and author of The Invention of Solitude, a moving and highly personal meditation on the body, time, and language itself "That is where the story begins, in your body, and everything will end in the body as well. Facing his sixty-third winter, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster sits down to write a history of his body and its sensations—both pleasurable and painful. Thirty years after the publication of The Invention of Solitude, in which he wrote so movingly about fatherhood, Auster gives us a second unconventional memoir in which he writes about his mother's life and death. Winter Journal is a highly personal meditation on the body, time, and memory, by one of our most intellectually elegant writers.
Paul Auster - Invisible
Sinuously constructed in four interlocking parts, Invisible opens in New York City in the spring of 1967 when twenty-year-old Adam Walker, an aspiring poet and student at Columbia University meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born, and his silent and seductive girlfriend Margot. Before long, Walker finds himself caught in a perverse triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life. Three different narrators tell the story, as it travels in time from 1967 to 2007 and moves from New York to Paris and to a remote Caribbean island in a story of unbridled sexual hunger and a relentless quest for justice. With uncompromising insight, Auster takes us to the shadowy borderland between truth and memory, authorship and identity to produce a work of unforgettable power that confirms his reputation as one of America's most spectacularly inventive writers.
Cormac McCarthy - Child of God
Scuttling down the mountain with the thing on his back he looked like a man beset by some ghast succubus, the dead girl riding him with legs bowed akimbo like a monstrous frog." Child of God must be the most sympathetic portrayal of necrophilia in all of literature. The hero, Lester Ballard, is expelled from his human family and ends up living in underground caves, which he peoples with his trophies: giant stuffed animals won in carnival shooting galleries and the decomposing corpses of his victims. Cormac McCarthy's much-admired prose is suspenseful, rich with detail, and yet restrained, even delicate, in its images of Lester's activities. So tightly focused is the story on this one "child of God" that it resembles a myth, or parable. "You could say that he's sustained by his fellow men, like you.... A race that gives suck to the maimed and the crazed, that wants their wrong blood in its history and will have it
Cormac McCarthy - Outer Dark
Outer Dark is a novel at once fabular and starkly evocative, set is an unspecified place in Appalachia, sometime around the turn of the century. A woman bears her brother's child, a boy; he leaves the baby in the woods and tells her he died of natural causes. Discovering her brother's lie, she sets forth alone to find her son. Both brother and sister wander separately through a countryside being scourged by three terrifying and elusive strangers, headlong toward an eerie, apocalyptic resolution.
Cormac McCarthy - The Crossing
The opening section of The Crossing, book two of the Border Trilogy, features perhaps the most perfectly realized storytelling of Cormac McCarthy's celebrated career. Like All the Pretty Horses, this volume opens with a teenager's decision to slip away from his family's ranch into Mexico. In this case, the boy is Billy Parham, and the catalyst for his trip is a wolf he and his father have trapped, but that Billy finds himself unwilling to shoot. His plan is to set the animal loose down south instead. This is a McCarthy novel, not Old Yeller, and so Billy's trek inevitably becomes more ominous than sweet. It boasts some chilling meditations on the simple ferocity McCarthy sees as necessary for all creatures who aim to continue living. But Billy is McCarthy's most loving--and therefore damageable--character, and his story has its own haunted melancholy. Billy eventually returns to his ranch. Then, finding himself and his world changed, he returns to Mexico with his younger brother, and the book begins meandering. Though full of hypnotically barren landscapes and McCarthy's trademark western-gothic imagery (like the soldier who sucks eyes from sockets), these latter stages become tedious at times, thanks partly to the female characters, who exist solely as ghosts to haunt the men. But that opening is glorious, and the whole book finally transcends its shortcomings to achieve a grim and poignant grandeur. --Glen Hirshberg
Edward Albee - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
George, a disillusioned academic, and Martha, his caustic wife, have just come home from a faculty party. When a handsome young professor and his mousy wife stop by for a nightcap, an innocent night of fun and games quickly turns dark and dangerous. Long-buried resentment and rage are unleashed as George and Martha turn their rapier-sharp wits against each other, using their guests as pawns in their verbal sparring. By night's end, the secrets of both couples are uncovered and the lies they cling to are exposed. Considered by many to be Albee's masterpiece,Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?is a "brilliantly original work of art -- an excoriating theatrical experience, surging with shocks of recognition and dramatic fire" (Newsweek).
Michael Feeney Callan - Robert Redford - The Biography
Among the most widely admired Hollywood stars of his generation, Redford has appeared onstage and on-screen, in front of and behind the camera, earning Academy, Golden Globe, and a multitude of other awards and nominations for acting, directing, and producing, and for his contributions to the arts. His Sundance Film Festival transformed the world of filmmaking; his films defined a generation. America has come to know him as the Sundance Kid, Bob Woodward, Johnny Hooker, Jay Gatsby, and Roy Hobbs. But only now, with this revelatory biography, do we see the surprising and complex man beneath the Hollywood façade. From Redford’s personal papers—journals, script notes, correspondence—and hundreds of hours of taped interviews, Michael Feeney Callan brings the legendary star into focus. Here is his scattered family background and restless childhood, his rocky start in acting, the death of his son, his star-making relationship with director Sydney Pollack, the creation of Sundance, his political activism, his artistic successes and failures, his friendships and romances. This is a candid, surprising portrait of a man whose iconic roles on-screen (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Natural) and directorial brilliance (Ordinary People, Quiz Show) have both defined and obscured one of the most celebrated, and, until now, least understood, public figures of our time.
Cormac McCarthy - Suttree (angol)
By the author of Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, Suttree is the story of Cornelius Suttree, who has forsaken a life of privilege with his prominent family to live in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River near Knoxville. Remaining on the margins of the outcast community there--a brilliantly imagined collection of eccentrics, criminals, and squatters--he rises above the physical and human squalor with detachment, humor, and dignity.
Mark Twain - Roughing It
Mark Twain's semi-autobiographical travel memoir, "Roughing It" was written between 1870-1871 and subsequently published in 1872. Billed as a prequel to "Innocents Abroad," in which Twain details his travels aboard a pleasure cruise, "Roughing It" documents Twain's early days in the old wild west between the years 1861-1867.
Don DeLillo - Ratner's Star
One of DeLillo's first novels, Ratner's Star follows Billy, the genius adolescent, who is recruited to live in obscurity, underground, as he tries to help a panel of estranged, demented, and yet lovable scientists communicate with beings from outer space. It is a mix of quirky humor, science, mathematical theories, as well as the complex emotional distance and sadness people feel. Ratner's Star demonstrates both the thematic and prosaic muscularity that typifies DeLillo's later and more recent works, like The Names (which is also available in Vintage Contemporaries).
J. D. Salinger - For Esmé with Love and Squalor
A collection of nine exceptional short stories from the author of 'The Catcher in the Rye', J D Salinger. The book includes two of Salinger's most famous and critically acclaimed pieces, which helped to establish him among contemporary literary greats. The title story - a soldier's recollection of his meeting with a young girl, Esmé, before being sent into combat - prompted a flood of readers - letters when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1950. The haunting, 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish' is the first of the author's many stories to feature the Glass family and follows eldest sibling, Seymour Glass, and his wife, Muriel, as they honeymoon in Florida.
Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse-Five
In its publication year, Slaughterhouse-Five was nominated for a best-novel Nebula Award and for a best-novel Hugo Award, 1970. It lost both to The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. Don't let the ease of reading fool you! Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch-22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy–and humor.
Cormac McCarthy - The Stonemason
The Stonemason is a profoundly moving drama set in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, concerning several generations of a black family. McCarthy's narrator, Ben, reveals a painful episode in his family's history, grounding us at the same time in the beautiful dynamic between him and his grandfather, Papaw. Ben, Ben's father, and Papaw are all stonemasons, but in descriptions of "the trade" we learn as much about this family's capacity for love as we do about constructing sound foundations for houses, barns and bridges. Papaw's knowledge about stonemasonry is analogous to his deep spiritual wisdom, and Ben recognizes both as he looks back on his apprenticeship in the "trade at which I thoughtmyself a master and of which I stood in darkest ignorance. And as I came to know him ... As I came to know him ... Oh I could hardly believe my good fortune. I swore then I'dcleave to that old man like a bride. I swore he'd take nothing to his grave." Papaw's son Big Ben and great-grandson Soldier do not respond as whole-heartedly to the old man's wealth of knowledge and patient guidance and the tragedy of the story is largely rooted in this fact. Both of these characters have lost connection with the work of their hands and by association with the earth, their family, and themselves. They are profoundly dissatisfied. Of his father, Ben later wonders, "Why could he not see the worth of that which he had laid aside and the poverty of all he hungered for? Why could he not see that he too was blest?" The Stonemason reveals afresh the mastery of character, plot, pathos, and the poetic facility for language that distinguishes Cormac McCarthy's fiction, and which recently earned him the National Book Award for his bestselling novel, All The Pretty Horses.
Cormac McCarthy - Cities of the Plain
On a ranch in southeastern Texas, soon after World War II, a group of solitary, inarticulately lonely men gathers to work animals as the sun sets for good on the mythic American West. All of these men nurse losses both personal (siblings or wives) and collective (a shared lifestyle and philosophy). Among them is John Grady Cole, the adolescent hero of the first book in Cormac McCarthy's Border trilogy, All the Pretty Horses. John Grady remains the magnificent horseman he always was, and he still dreams too much. On the ranch, he meets Billy Parham, whose own tragic sojourn through Mexico in The Crossing, the second book of the set, continues to quietly suffocate him. The two form a friendship that will nurture both but save neither from the destiny that McCarthy's characters always sense lurching to meet them. Soaked in storm-heavy atmosphere but brightened by the ranch-hands' easy camaraderie and gentle humor, Cities of the Plain surprises with its sweetness. The awkward doomed-romance plot at the center of this tight, concise novel fails to convince, but, remarkably, does little to undercut the book's impact. What lingers here, and what matters, are the brooding, eerie portraits of the plains and the riders, glimpsed mostly alone but occasionally leaning together, who slip across them, over the horizon into memory. --Glen Hirshberg
Susan Sontag - Against Interpretation and Other Essays
A series of provocative discussions on everything from individual authors to contemporary religious thinking, Against Interpretation and Other Essays is the definitive collection of Susan Sontag's best known and important works published in Penguin Modern Classics. Against Interpretation was Susan Sontag's first collection of essays and made her name as one of the most incisive thinkers of our time. Sontag was among the first critics to write about the intersection between 'high' and 'low' art forms, and to give them equal value as valid topics, shown here in her epoch-making pieces 'Notes on Camp' and 'Against Interpretation'. Here too are impassioned discussions of Sartre, Camus, Simone Weil, Godard, Beckett, Lévi-Strauss, science-fiction movies, psychoanalysis and contemporary religious thought. Originally published in 1966, this collection has never gone out of print and has been a major influence on generations of readers, and the field of cultural criticism, ever since. Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was born in Manhattan and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of four novels - The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover and In America, which won the 2000 US National Book Award for fiction - a collection of stories, several plays, and six books of essays, among them Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. If you enjoyed Against Interpretation and Other Essays, you might like Sontag's On Photography, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.
Orson Scott Card - Maps in a Mirror
_Maps in a Mirror_ brings together nearly all of Orson Scott Card's short fiction written between 1977 and 1990. For those readers who have followed this remarkable talent since the beginning, here are all those amazing stories gathered together in one place, with some extra surprises as well. For the hundreds of thousands who are newly come to Card, here is chance to experience the wonder of a writer so versatile that he can handle everything from traditional narrative poetry to modern experimental fiction with equal ease and grace. The brilliant story-telling of the Alvin Maker books is no accident; the breathless excitement evoked by the Ender books is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In this enormous volume are forty-six stories, plus ten long, intensely personal essays, unique to this volume. In them the author reveals some of his reasons and motivations for writing, with a good deal of autobiography into the bargain.
David Foster Wallace - Fate, Time, and Language
In 1962, the philosopher Richard Taylor used six commonly accepted presuppositions to imply that human beings have no control over the future. David Foster Wallace not only took issue with Taylor's method, which, according to him, scrambled the relations of logic, language, and the physical world, but also noted a semantic trick at the heart of Taylor's argument. Fate, Time, and Language presents Wallace's brilliant critique of Taylor's work. Written long before the publication of his fiction and essays, Wallace's thesis reveals his great skepticism of abstract thinking made to function as a negation of something more genuine and real. He was especially suspicious of certain paradigms of thought-the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever gimmickry of postmodernism-that abandoned "the very old traditional human verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community." As Wallace rises to meet the challenge to free will presented by Taylor, we witness the developing perspective of this major novelist, along with his struggle to establish solid logical ground for his convictions. This volume, edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert, reproduces Taylor's original article and other works on fatalism cited by Wallace. James Ryerson's introduction connects Wallace's early philosophical work to the themes and explorations of his later fiction, and Jay Garfield supplies a critical biographical epilogue.
Cormac McCarthy - All the Pretty Horses
Part bildungsroman, part horse opera, part meditation on courage and loyalty, this beautifully crafted novel won the National Book Award in 1992. The plot is simple enough. John Grady Cole, a 16-year-old dispossessed Texan, crosses the Rio Grande into Mexico in 1949, accompanied by his pal Lacey Rawlins. The two precocious horsemen pick up a sidekick--a laughable but deadly marksman named Jimmy Blevins--encounter various adventures on their way south and finally arrive at a paradisiacal hacienda where Cole falls into an ill-fated romance. Readers familiar with McCarthy's Faulknerian prose will find the writing more restrained than in Suttree and Blood Meridian. Newcomers will be mesmerized by the tragic tale of John Grady Cole's coming of age.