cover image THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS, 2001


, , series editor Robert Atwan. . Houghton Mifflin, $27 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-618-04931-8

Marking its 16th year, this series shows no sign of flagging. In fact, American nonfiction doesn't get much better. Culling from the country's finest periodicals—the New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, American Scholar—guest editor Norris (Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, etc.) has assembled 26 pieces of outstanding grace and beautys. Norris has done her part in restoring the joy of discovery for jaded readers Bert O. States explores the terrors that choke the brain; Marcus Laffey, a pseudonymous policeman, takes readers through a Bronx state of mind; Stephen King tackles trauma, and writing as recovery; Carlo Rotella studies pain and discipline through the boxing gloves of one of his literature students. In most cases, these writers leave behind at least one image to forever haunt the reader, lending these pieces that sense of the eternal: trays as "heavy as bad news," "the spear point of anxiety lodged in the heart," collapsed tenements left "open like dolls' houses," thick "cataracts of suspicion" clouding the eyes, nightmares like "sudden holes in one's pressurized suit in the deep of a dream." The drawbacks of this collection are negligible, mainly that Norris verges on thematic repetition by including several essays on Judaism and another on religious faith. This spiritual bent undoubtedly reflects her own concerns and may also be reflective of a certain spiritual thirst as America speeds into the new millennium. For as Norris has written in her introduction, this collection constitutes "a welcome open space in the crowded, busy landscape of American life." Other contributors include Diane Ackerman, Mary Oliver, Edward Hoagland, Francine du Plessix Gray, Ashraf Rushdy and William T. Vollmann. (Oct.)

Forecast: With a $200,000 marketing campaign, this latest entry in the popular series should sell handsomely.