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Benjamin Chambers on the "Best American" Essays, Pt. 1

Filed under: Letters & Challenges   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Benjamin Chambers, of the splendid literary website The King’s English, has thus far proven to be the ideal reader of the Squib Report if not this entire blog. After I posted exhaustive lists of the Best American essays and short stories according to Houghton Mifflin (in which there are still gaps—by all means submit missing years if you have them!), he not only provided us with the data for two years in the essay list but also decided that he would read all of the listed essays. Benjamin: I admire your dedication! Judging from your industriousness, you’ll have no trouble finishing off the list.

Here is his first update on his reading progress. We look forward to the next installments!

The reading’s going well. Slowly, but well…. I was fascinated to learn the story behind Joe Bob Briggs (Trillin), enjoyed Berton Roueche’s “Marble Stories,” and Pfaff’s “Dimensions of Terror,” but nearly foundered on Anthony Bailey’s “Good Little Vessel.” (One of those “interminable” ones for which the NYer gets such a bad rap.) I had just completed Frances FitzGerald’s “Memoirs of the Reagan Era,” which was an interesting adjunct to Joan Didion’s collection, Political Fictions, when—as often happens with these NYer reading expeditions—I got sidetracked to something not on the list: FitzGerald’s two-parter on the Rajneeshee, who built one of the stranger latter-day communes here in Oregon, where I live. Of them all so far, the one I found most deeply compelling was Vicki Hearne’s essay on language, though I admit it’s sometimes a little hard to follow….
Thanks again for posting this list—it’s really inspired me to go back to the Complete NYer and make use of it. Of course it’s difficult to poke around in it for long without finding something of interest, but having a definite reading plan makes it seem more purposeful.

You’re welcome! Inspiring people to delve into the CNY is pretty much the only purpose of the Squib Report! Stay tuned for more reports from Benjamin. —Martin Schneider

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