Best Of

I quite enjoyed Chris Lehman’s essay over at The essay was originally commissioned by the NY Times, but was never published, until today. It begins thus:

Superlatives are an unofficial American birthright. Bestness, like bigness, is the turbo-charged engine propelling not just the American advertising world, but the literary one. Almost since there has been a self-conscious American literary culture, it has been busily investing itself with outsize claims for its stature, a reflex that feels very much of a piece with the foundational hubris of conquering an inhabited continent and proclaiming it, and all the new Anglo arrivistes governing it, a “New World.”

Hence an annual ritual, as reassuring in its own way as the return of the swallows to Capistrano: Houghton-Mifflin issues collections of writing that a stable of star subeditors hired for the occasion deems the best in its field.

Lehman looks at the Best Of franchise, including Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Best American Essays, and I found his criticism, particularly of this year’s edition of BASS to be fair and well-grounded.