The Best American Essays: 2019, ed Rebecca Solnit 2019

The 2019 version of the Best American Essays is the 33rd in the series, and seldom has an editor put together a more coherent and powerful collection.  Solnit is an author and activist who has written  twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, and she maintains her focus on these important, contemporary issues in her choice of these 20 essays. She describes her target in choosing these twenty from among the hundreds that she reviewed as seeking “integrity of writing and the writer’s visions, but essays that engaged with the most important and conflicted stuff of our time….I wanted to read about climate, about gender, about race, about technology, about violence, about how things are changing and where we have leverage.”  She has chosen well. Unlike other volumes in this series (and I’ve read all of them back to 1994), the essays in this volume rarely delight or lift one’s spirits; rather, they are a continuation of the nearly unbearable ‘news of the day’ and in that is their value.  Taking inspiration from George Orwell’s work to make political writing an art form, Solnit has chosen essays that reveal ‘the patterns and relationships we didn’t suspect…. or where those patterns and phenomena we thought we knew take on new meanings and depths and or turn out to be strangers we are meeting for the first time.”   Again, unlike prior volumes where I found the writing to be the main attraction, I’d urge you to read this one for a view of our times and how important it is for each of us to engage in the current struggles.  On a personal note, I was delighted to see that the series editor, Robert Atwan, dedicated this volume to Donald Hall, my dear favorite poet who died in October, 2018.

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