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'Best American Essays of the Century' edited by Joyce Carol Oates
Edited by Joyce Carol Oates. DO essays get no respect? Or is the problem that they get too much -- that the very word brings back a childish dread of being forced to plow through the canon of 19th-century chestnuts and to write the onerous weekly "themes" we were assigned in high school? Whatever the case, essays are regarded with ambivalence. In recent years writers have rediscovered the supple liveliness of the form, the pleasure of removing the mask of fiction, of being licensed to tell as well as to show and to explore the unmapped reaches of subjectivity. So many good essays are being published in the literary quarterlies these days, surely this is an indication of a mild resurgence in the popularity of the form. But this enthusiasm has not been reflected in the commercial publishing world.