cover image The Best American Essays 2006

The Best American Essays 2006

, ; series editor, Robert Atwan. . Houghton Mifflin, $28 (277pp) ISBN 978-0-618-70529-0

Veteran essayists (Joseph Epstein, Oliver Sacks, Susan Orlean) share space with accomplished newcomers (Michele Morano, Laurie Abraham, Poe Ballantine) in this rich and thoughtful collection. Ethnic variety is one strain: Emily Bernard writes about being a black teacher in a white class; Ken Chen deciphers the cultural mix of Hong Kong. Peter Selgin's account of the maiming of his hand and Robert Polito's search for his unknown grandmother convey the poignancy of loss, and Scott Turow regrets never having met Saul Bellow. But the dominant theme is death. Toi Derricotte, Kim Dana Kupperman and David Rieff write about the deaths of their mothers (Rieff's mother was Susan Sontag). Sam Pickering's elegiac essay about putting his dog to sleep is also a lament on lost youth and coming age; Adam Gopnik wittily demonstrates how the death of a goldfish provides a watershed moment for his family. The most affecting piece is an excerpt from Marjorie Williams's elegant, unsparing The Woman at the Washington Zoo , in which she describes the progress of the cancer that was to kill her in 2005. Eugene Goodheart explains this preoccupation best: "I think of [the personal essay] as the genre of the posthumous," he says. (Oct. 11)