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The Best American Essays 2004

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Since 1986, The Best American Essays has gathered the best nonfiction writing of the year, establishing itself as the best-selling anthology of its kind. In this year's edition Louis Menand writes, Most of the essays in this volume were picked by ear. I was searching for voices. Some are cool and some are anti-cool. I like both. There are many subjects here -- for the subject, to a point, doesn't matter. Still, as a reader, my favorite kind of essay is the one that makes a lost time present -- the essay that tells me how it was in New York City in the 1970s, or on a Manhattan bus in the 1940s, or at a midwestern high school, or during a summer on Cape Cod. Selfishly -- and why shouldn't an editor be selfish? -- I like to read stories about my own times. I never get tired of it. I feel as though I could do it forever, and I probably will. Jonathan Franzen remembers emblematic late nights on the high school roof, Wayne Koestenbaum revisits his own literary coming of age in the 1980s, and Rick Moody's exegesis of cool is set against the disclaimer that I was and am an interloper. I am, in fact, uncool. This volume opens with an extraordinary find from Oxford American: a previously unpublished work by James Agee, the author of A Death in the Family and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. America, Look at Your Shame!, discovered misfiled with Agee's poetry manuscripts, underscores a searing personal awakening that feels as essential now as it did when it was first written sixty years ago. Hide synopsis

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