cover image The Best American Essays 2014

The Best American Essays 2014

Edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan, series editor Robert Atwan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner, $14.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-544-30990-6

This illustrious annual anthology returns for its 29th year with a vengeance, featuring 21 of the year's most urgent and at times painfully truthful pieces of nonfiction published in U.S. periodicals. The introduction from editor Sullivan (Pulphead) traces the tangled etymological history of the term "essay," asking "How could we honestly trust any creature that comes into the world wearing such a caul of ambiguity?" Series editor Atwan's preface also touches on this theme, referencing the recent spate of dishonest memoirs but deeming the offerings here "simultaneously intense, intellectual and inventive." This multifaceted approach to narrative can be seen in Wendy Brenner's "Strange Beads," wherein she takes on the unfathomable burden of mourning her ex-fianc%C3%A9's recent death while also facing her own ongoing struggle with cancer. It also appears in Barry Lopez's "Sliver of Sky," in which Lopez bravely revisits his horrific experience of sexual abuse during his 1950s childhood. Other impactful selections include Wells Tower's "The Old Man at Burning Man," Jerald Walker's "How to Make a Slave," and James Wood's "Becoming Them." This eclectic, powerful array of thought-provoking essays is sure to appeal to a broad array of readers. Agent: Gerald McCauley, Gerard McCauley Agency, and Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)