The Best American Essays 2021

Edited by Kathryn Schulz. Mariner, $16.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-358-38175-4

New Yorker writer Schulz (Being Wrong) collects essays that skillfully combine journalistic and literary sensibilities in this powerful addition to the annual anthology series. Many pieces were written in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter protests, such as Elizabeth Alexander’s “The Travyon Generation,” about “the young people” whose worldviews were shaped by stories of racially motivated police violence. Others, such as Jessica Lustig’s “What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick with Coronavirus,” offer takes on the pandemic, as does Jesmyn Ward’s “Witness and Respair,” on the death of her lover just before the pandemic “settled in.” There’s also “In Orbit,” Dariel Suarez’s meditation on building a spaceship as a child, and, on the lighter side, Amy Leach’s playful “Oh Latitudo,” on what can be learned from creatures that live around supervolcanoes. The final essay written by the late nature writer Barry Lopez, “Love in a Time of Terror,” sums up what the essays have to offer with a single question: “Is it still possible,” he asks, “to face the gathering darkness, and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves... I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?” This is a moving retrospective of a singular year. (Oct.)
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