I know the name The Best American Essays sounds a little dry and textbook-y. At least that’s what I thought when it was assigned to me in a writing class this term. Well, the title does not do the collection justice; this was one of the best reads I’ve ever been handed as homework.
Every year, The Best American Essays will choose one writer to pick a series of nonfiction works written by authors from around the country. For 2014, John Jeremiah Sullivan was given the honor.
Sullivan has worked for the New York Times, GQ and Harper’s Magazine. He is most famously known for his two books Blood Horses and Pulphead (also a good read of short essays!). Sullivan’s writing is clever and brilliant; naturally, each essay he chose for The Best American Essays 2014 impressed me.
The writing drew me in so much that I didn’t realize I was actually doing homework; each piece used eloquent flow, beautiful words and powerful topics to illustrate how individuals cope with challenges and experiences in their lives.
I will tell you now, though, some of the essays are a little on the dark side and should be read during the daylight, not before bed. For example, two of the essays, “Sliver of Sky” and “Someone Else” were stories about two authors and their journeys of overcoming the excruciating memories of child abuse. Although raw and sometimes hard to read because of the content, the writing was so strong and the themes were so compelling that I was highly intrigued to read them through, rooting for the author along the way.
Although there are more light-hearted essays (and some humorous too), such as “The Old Man at Burning Man,” each written work contributes to an ongoing theme of growing up, maturing, overcoming personal challenges and self-reflection throughout the series.
Each text ranges in size and category, so there is an essay for everyone in Sullivan’s compilation. They are easy to read, yet the underlying meanings will keep you pondering. This book is perfect to read during break because it will keep your mind sharp before winter term starts, yet it is fascinating and quick to finish.