Against Interpretation (1966 is not in itself an example of camp. John McPhee, "The Search for Marvin Gardens" (originally appeared in, the New the best essays ever written Yorker, 1972. I roll the dicea six and a two. Through the air I move my token, the flatiron, to Vermont Avenue, where dog packs range.And so we move, in this brilliantly conceived essay, from a series of Monopoly games to a decaying Atlantic City, the once renowned resort town that inspired Americas most popular board game. As the games progress and as properties are rapidly snapped up, McPhee juxtaposes the well-known sites on the boardAtlantic Avenue, Park Placewith actual visits to their crumbling locations.He goes to jail, not just in the game but in fact, portraying what life has now become in a city that in better days was a Boardwalk Empire. At essays end, he finds the elusive Marvin Gardens. Pieces of the Frame (1975).Read the essay here (subscription required). Joan Didion, "The White Album" (originally appeared. New West, 1979) Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the Black Panthers, a recording session with Jim Morrison and the Doors, the San Francisco State riots, the Manson murdersall of these, and much more, figure prominently in Didions brilliant mosaic distillation (or phantasmagoric album) of California. Yet despite a cast of characters larger than most Hollywood epics, The White Album is a highly personal essay, right down to Didions report of her psychiatric tests as an outpatient in a Santa Monica hospital in the summer of 1968.
But Mailers attempt to define the hipsterin what reads in part like a prose version of Ginsbergs Howlis suddenly relevant again, as new essays keep appearing with a similar definitional purpose, though no one would mistake Mailers hipster (a philosophical psychopath) for the ones. Odd, how terms can bounce back into life with an entirely different set of connotations.What might Mailer call the new hipsters? Read the essay here. Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp (originally appeared.Partisan Review, 1964 like Mailers White writing off service donations Negro, Sontags groundbreaking essay was an ambitious attempt to define a modern sensibility, in this case camp, a word that was then almost exclusively associated with the gay world. I was familiar with it as an undergraduate, hearing it used often by a set of friends, department store window decorators in Manhattan. Before I heard Sontagthirty-one, glamorous, dressed entirely in black- read the essay on publication.Partisan Review gathering, I had simply interpreted campy as an exaggerated style or over-the-top behavior. But after Sontag unpacked the concept, with the help of Oscar Wilde, I began to see the cultural world in a different light. The whole point of camp, she writes, is to dethrone the serious. Her essay, collected.
To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesnt necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre personalized writing paper and envelopes is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process-reflecting, trying-out, essaying. James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son" (originally appeared. Harpers, 1955 i had never thought of myself as an essayist, wrote James Baldwin, who was finishing his novel.Giovannis Room while he worked on what would become one of the great American essays. Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American. Some today may question the relevance of the essay in our brave new post-racial world, though Baldwin considered the essay still relevant in 1984 and, had he lived to see it, the election of Barak Obama may not have changed his mind.However you view the racial politics, the prose is undeniably hypnotic, beautifully modulated and yet full of urgency. Langston Hughes nailed it when he described Baldwins illuminating intensity.The essay was collected. Notes of a Native Son courageously (at the time) published by Beacon Press in 1955. Norman Mailer, "The White Negro" (originally appeared. Dissent, 1957 an essay that packed an enormous wallop at the time may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics.
Robert Atwan, the founder of, the Best American Essays series, picks the 10 best essays of the postwar period. Links to the essays are provided when available. Fortunately, when I help me write a paper worked with Joyce Carol Oates.The Best American Essays of the Century (thats the last century, by the way we werent restricted to ten selections. So to make my list of the top ten essays since 1950 less impossible, I decided to exclude all the great examples of New Journalism-Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr, and many others can be reserved for another list. I also decided to include only American writers, so such outstanding English-language essayists as Chris Arthur and Tim Robinson are missing, though they have appeared.The Best American Essays series. And I selected essays, not essayists. A list of the top ten essayists since 1950 would feature some different writers.