cover image The Best American Essays 1989

The Best American Essays 1989

. Ticknor & Fields, $17.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-89919-891-0

Culled by Wolff ( The Duke of Deception ) and series editor Robert Atwan from magazines and journals (six of 21 essays are, disproportionately, from Harper's ), this anthology excels, from Wolff's introductory remarks about the evolution of his own writing through Victor Zaslavsky's piece on intrigue in a Soviet library. A few strong selections come from lesser-known authors, such as Judy Ruiz's account of her brother's sex-change operation, but most are by acknowledged masters; among these are Robert Stone on the 1988 Republican convention, Joan Didion on the presidential election, Richard Ford on growing up in a hotel, Stanley Elkin on touring with a dance company--he read aloud, they danced--and Christopher Hitchens on discovering, late in life, his Jewish heritage. There are two ``celebrity'' essays--Julian Barnes gives the emotional play-by-play of his chess match with Arthur Koestler and Frank Conroy describes a series of youthful meetings with Justice William O. Douglas. Not surprisingly, mortality proves a popular theme--Edward Hoagland's measured thoughts on suicide and Leonard Kriegel's comments on the difficulty of ``falling,'' though about death, are oddly uplifting. One general complaint: women are under-represented. (Oct.)