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By Salon Staff
October 30, 2000 10:11PM (UTC)
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The Best American Essays 2000 edited by Alan Lightman
Connoisseurs tout the essay form as the purest expression of a mind at work, and I've found that reading a well-crafted essay can often counteract a bout of mental sluggishness. "The Best American Essays 2000" arrived at our office on an endless rainy afternoon, and I made a beeline for it. It has some truly mind-expanding stuff: most notably, Floyd Skloot's "Gray Area: Thinking With a Damaged Brain," about his altered thinking processes after a virus damaged part of his brain. I also loved "At a Certain Age," Lynne Sharon Schwartz's clear-eyed look at the elaborate evasions we use to think about getting older. And thankfully, in this age of never-ending lists and hype, editor Alan Lightman (himself recently nominated for a National Book Award for his novel "The Diagnosis") confesses in the introduction, "I can make no claim that these twenty-one pieces were the 'best essays' of the past year ... What I can say is that I liked all of these essays a great deal."

-- Maria Russo


C.S. Lewis: A Biography by A.N. Wilson
I'm researching for an essay on the Chronicles of Narnia, which entails dipping into the puddle of mediocrity that is most C.S. Lewis criticism. The field does not attract great minds or literary talents. The exception, the green island in the puddle, is A.N. Wilson's biography, a book that's admiring without being hagiographic and one that makes some effort to treat Lewis' writings as literary works rather than a form of divine revelation. Lewis was a complicated man, often coarse and close-minded, but also acutely sensitive to books and a superb, fluent critic who never lost touch with the pleasures of reading. His life, especially his relations with women, was a mysterious and fascinating conglomeration of contradictions, and Wilson is a terrific writer.

-- Laura Miller

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