cover image The Best American Essays 1992

The Best American Essays 1992

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-395-59935-8

Edited by Sontag ( The Volcano Lover ), this collection amply demonstrates the diversity of subject matter that stimulates contemporary essayists. Adam Gopnik traces John James Audubon's self-transformation from French emigre dilettante to American woodsman; John Updike probes the persistence of the Mickey Mouse icon; E. L. Doctorow tries to fathom the mysteries of songs, which ``have the capacity to represent in their lyrics and lines of melody wars and other disasters, moral process, the fruits of experience, and, like prayers, the consolations beyond loss''; Stanley Elkin contends that Hamlet and the Mona Lisa are overrated masterpieces; and John Guillory discusses the difference between the literary canon and the classroom syllabus. This collection is uneven. Low points include Patricia Storace's critique of a lackluster biography of the mediocre, probably racist Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and Jamaica Kincaid's shriek against everything English. Highlights include Joan Didion's dissection of the Central Park jogger rape case's hold on the New York psyche, and David Rieff's critique of the recovery movement (although the fact that he is Sontag's son should have on principle kept him out of this ``best'' collection). (Nov.)