cover image The Best American Essays 2016

The Best American Essays 2016

Edited by Jonathan Franzen, series editor Robert Atwan. Mariner, $14.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-544-81210-9

In choosing the essays for this thought-provoking volume, guest editor Franzen (Purity) used risk as his main criterion: specifically, did the author take one? And his selections do indeed go to risky, sensitive places. Most of all, they do what the essay form arguably does best: engaging the personal in order to reach larger themes. There are several standouts even among this stellar company, such as Joyce Carol Oates’s gut-wrenching story of her severely autistic younger sister, and Jaquira Díaz’s vivid telling of being abused as a child. Francisco Cantú’s diary of becoming a border patrol agent is gripping. Laura Kipnis’s exploration of sexual consent guidelines about relationships between students and college professors is startlingly candid. Alexander Chee and Mason Stokes both grapple with questions of queer identity, and Jill Sisson Quinn makes unexpectedly poignant connections between wanting to adopt a child and her love of salamander watching. The collection also includes one of the last pieces written by Oliver Sacks before his death in 2015. As Franzen notes in his excellent introduction, and as his selections prove, the essay form forces authors to take measure of themselves, and allows the reader to do so as well. (Oct.)