cover image The Best American Essays 2000

The Best American Essays 2000

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $27.5 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-618-03578-6

This year marks the 15th anniversary of this popular collection, and Lightman (Einstein's Dreams) presents a pleasing variety of voices, from established pros such as William Gass and Mary Gordon to newcomers such as Geeta Kothari and Cheryl Strayed. The selections come from a range of journals, and though the usual suspects--the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and Harper's--are well represented, several less established literary venues, such as Doubletake and Sierra, are a welcome addition. Of particular interest are Andrew Sullivan's entry on hate crimes, a piece by controversial philosopher Peter Singer on personal responsibility for world hunger, and one on elusive fathers by Jamaica Kincaid. Certain themes resonate throughout the collection, especially technology and science, death, nature and place. A reader may be struck by just how traditional most of these essays are. The influence of E.B. White and John Updike, to name merely a couple of patron saints, is everywhere. But while many of the writers use conventional style--no huge experiments in essay form are conducted here--they are still examining fresh ideas unique to our times, such as new attitudes toward brain damage and heroin addiction. The list of honorable mentions is an important and useful document for industrious readers. There may always be something arbitrary about such selections, but who can complain about being offered the chance to read some of this year's best all in one volume, and with insightful introductory comments by Lightman, who is a fine writer himself. (Oct.)