"Writing is a window. It opens onto vanished feelings and vanished worlds. Often it is the only window there is, the only access we will ever have to those things.
It is more than a mere record, like a photograph, because it is also a sensibility, a point of view, a voice. It is the place where, fifty or a hundred years from now, people will go to see or to hear what it was like to be alive when we were alive.
We were alive in 2003, and these pieces are part of what remains." Louis Menand, from his Introduction
Selected by the Pulitzer Prizewinning writer Louis Menand, The Best American Essays 2004 showcases the finest nonfiction writing published in the past year.
Included in this nineteenth edition of the best-selling anthology:
Kathryn Chetkovich on being and loving a writer
Jonathan Franzen on the existentials of high school hijinks
Adam Gopnik on The Matrix
Laura Hillenbrand on chronic fatigue syndrome
Rick Moody on the meaning of "cool"
Susan Orlean on the World Taxidermy Championships
Alex Ross on pop music
Janna Malamud Smith on the death of her father, Bernard Malamud
Additional literary lights whose work appears in this year's collection: Anne Fadiman, Jared Diamond, Leonard Michaels, Oliver Sacks, and Cynthia Zarin, among others. Also included are newly discovered essays by James Agee and Tennessee Williams, neither of which appeared in print until 2003. The topics are diverse and the writing all displays "an awareness of craft and forcefulness of thought," according to series editor Robert Atwan.
Louis Menand is the author of The Metaphysical Club and American Studies and is a staff writer for The New Yorker.
Robert Atwan has been the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986.