Book review: The Best American Essays 2022, ed. by Alexander Chee

posted: June 16, 2024

tl;dr: An above-average essay anthology for both quality and quantity...

Apparently Dartmouth English professor and novelist Alexander Chee knows good writing when reads it, as he should in order to succeed in his chosen professions. He has assembled a volume of The Best American Essays annual anthology that tops others of recent vintage for quality of writing. As an added bonus it is also longer in page-count and essay-count.

Chee is queer, or gay, or however he chooses to label himself, and an LGBTQ+ activist. The Best American Essays 2022 does contain a greater number of essays by Lambda Literary Award winners or writers aspiring to win a Lammy than would otherwise be expected with a non-queer editor. But sexuality is not a major theme in most of the essays, and writing quality has not been sacrificed to convey a political message.

The essays in this volume were written in 2021, the second year of the COVID-19 endemic. Several essays mention the changes wrought by COVID-19, but it is not a major theme in most of the essays. Those seeking a collection of the best essays about the COVID-19 endemic will have to await the publication of an anthology focused on that topic.

A book cover featuring a slanted black banner stating the book's title and editor, while in the background is a picture of several dozen short wooden pencils haphazardly arranged flat on a dark surface

Here are my favorite essays in The Best American Essays 2022:

“The Lost List” by Ryan Bradley: This riff on lost items and being lost explored numerous examples, aspects, and contexts, drawing some unexpected connections between them.

“Anatomy of a Botched Assimilation” by Jesus Quintero: The author’s emotional, personal account of how a janitor taught him and his immigrant family some critical lessons that ultimately put him on a better path in life.

“China Brain” by Andrea Long Chu: The author explores a variety of treatments to deal with psychological issues, highlighting how little is known about how the brain works and how to fix it when things go wrong.

“Fire and Ice” by Debra Gwartney: A COVID-19 endemic-era story about a couple facing demise on multiple fronts during extremely challenging circumstances.