cover image The Best American Essays 1994

The Best American Essays 1994

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $11.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-395-69253-0

What's best about these essays is their diversity, both of content and approach. From Nicholson Baker's wittily erudite discourse on punctuation (``Are the marks that we have right now really enough?'' he wonders) to Mark Kramer's report on how Muscovites in post-Communist Russia spend their weekends (``Entire families flee''), this collection is equal parts literary achievement and manual for the autodidact. Kidder has included essays on art, literature, science and performing orangutans in Las Vegas, courtesy of established writers including, respectively, Adam Gopnik, David Denby, Stephen Jay Gould and Vicki Hearne. Among the strongest pieces are journalistic essays covering current events. Ted Conover writes a compelling account of his travels with truck drivers in AIDS-ridden East Africa, where his companions claim that ``If you sleep with a virgin it will often take away your AIDS''; and Darcy Frey provides an in-depth look at the painfully exploitative relationship between high school athletes in the ghettos of Coney Island and the college basketball recruiters who alternately woo and ignore them. Of the few personal essays Kidder included, two that deserve special mention are those by Lucy Grealy and Lauren Slater, both of whom have created stunning pieces on the self-absorbed topic of self-image. (Nov.)