The Best American Essays 2013
Selected and introduced by Cheryl Strayed, the New York Times best-selling author of Wild and the writer of the celebrated column “Dear Sugar,” this collection is a treasure trove of fine writing and thought-provoking essays.
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Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel
"Totalitarian" refers to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state. Examples of totalitarian governments include Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin.
"Post-impressionism" refers to a style of art whose works are defined by their use of vivid color, realistic subject matter, and abstract forms and shapes. Below is an example of post-impressionist painting by Vincent van Gogh. Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889. (This annotation contains an image)
On Oct. 19, 1987, a day that became known as "Black Monday," the stock market crashed as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 508 points, or 22.6 percent in value, its largest single-day percentage drop. The crash came after a two-week period in which the Dow dropped 15 percent. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following lines does NOT necessarily support the narrator's description of his apartment complex as the "Totalitarian Hotel"?
The Paris Review is a famous literary magazine known for its interviews with writers. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the author's use of hyperbole contribute to the characterization of the narrator?
Rabelaisian (after the author Francois Rabelais) means to be hilarious, crude, relentless against hypocrisy, and opposed to popular opinion. The cartoon South Park could be described as Rabelaisian.
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
This is an example of figurative language. When Ballantine writes that his stomach is "pickled" he means that his stomach is
Why is the narrator so eager to see America "snap from its strings and fall of its face"?
Alice Munro is considered a master of the short story. In this essay, Munro employs many of the techniques used in short stories. As you read, consider how this essay compares to short stories you have read.
Why didn't the narrator ask her mother about the growth removed by the doctor?
Throughout this essay, Munro uses foreshadowing to create tension. Learn more about foreshadowing below. As you read the essay look for examples of foreshadowing. (This annotation contains a video)
Are you surprised by the narrator's revelation? Identify examples of foreshadowing from earlier in the story.
Why does Munro spend so much time describing her surroundings during her night walks?
Climax, a Greek term meaning "ladder," is that particular point in a narrative at which the conflict or tension hits the highest point. Climax is a structural part of a plot and is at times referred to as a crisis. (This annotation contains a link)
Why is the narrator finally able to sleep?
Sometimes a Romantic Notion
Which definition of "romantic" best fits the author's use of the term through the essay?
Schmitt's description of the "shining steel wheels of the train" and his "brick dust sneakers" is an example of _________.
Below is a photo of a "pie car" like the one Schmitt is about to encounter. What do you think the "pie car" is used for? (This annotation contains an image)
The main theme of this essay is romantic notions, while the subject matter is running away to join the circus. What is the difference between theme and subject?
Maybe you have fantasized about playing in the NBA or winning an Oscar. Identify a romantic notion you hold now or did in the past. Describe some of the misconceptions related to this notion.
Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II. He later went on to appear and star in more than 40 feature films. Robert L. Howard and Joe Hooper were both highly decorated American combat soldiers of the Vietnam War.
Through writing this essay, Schmitt realizes that
Highway of Lost Girls
Why does the author "[need] to understand [her] responsibility" regarding the events that occurred 27 years ago?
A pentimento refers to visible traces of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas. The word is Italian for repentance, from the verb pentirsi, meaning to repent. Why might the author have chosen this particular word to describe her and Regina’s stories?
Veselka doesn't use a lot of figurative language in this essay, but when she does she is usually comparing herself (or women in general) to different kinds of animals. in this example, Veselka refers to a deer to heighten her feeling of being prey.
"Lot lizards" and "beaver" are names the truckers use to identify women they encounter on the road and at truck stops. What do these names tell you about how the truckers view and relate to these women?
Veselka uses a variety of sources to aid her memories of past events. Her research techniques include conducting interviewing, reading factual sources like newspaper articles and maps, observing photographs and visiting locations pertinent to the events, and citing experts like the FBI agents Young and Lee.
What does Veselka reveal about herself through this account of her conversation with Lee?
Kali is the Hindu goddess of time, change, and destruction. Why does Veselka compare Lisa Pennal to Kali? (This annotation contains an image)
What of the following words is a synonym for "drifter" as it is used here?
In trying to discover the identity of the trucker, Veselka realizes that the story she is actually telling through this essay is about the "invisible people" like Lisa Pennal and Shanna Holts.
Keeper of the Flame
Neuschwanstein is a castle in Germany where the Nazis stored stolen artworks. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is probably NOT a reason for why Vollmer chooses to identify his father's patient as "the Nazi" throughout the essay?
Vollmer's observations about the doors, the Danger: High Voltage sign, and the temperature change all contribute to creating _____ in the essay.
Mein Kampf is the autobiographical manifesto by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in which he outlined his political ideology and future plans for Germany.
Pay attention to this moment and how the author reacts.
How does Vollmer's actual visit to the Nazi's castle differ from the expectations he shares early in the essay? What does Vollmer learn about himself from the visit?
Breeds of America
After you finish reading this essay, check out Zora Neal Hurston's 1928 essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." Compare Kelley's coming of age in the North with Hurston's account of growing up in the South.
When Kelley writes that "We all have to learn about [race]," he is saying that race is _________.
Video of Josephine Baker's "Banana Dance" at the Folies Bergère in Paris, France. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is NOT one of the "linguistic worlds" that Kelley lived in as a child?
Emmett Till was a 14 year-old boy from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.
You've probably noticed that Kelley deliberately identifies groups of people by specific names (Italo, Creole, Afro-American, etc.) How do these names reflect Kelley's perception of himself both growing up and in the present? Is his identity static or does it change over time?
My Father’s Women
Watch the video below to learn more about theme. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on what you have read so far, predict which one of the following will most likely NOT be a theme explored in this essay?
Which of the following is a contradiction about her father that the author discovers at his funeral?
Yoshikawa does not come right out and say it, but these details indicate that her father struggled with mental illness during his life.
Thus far, Yoshikawa has been focusing on the question of whether or not her father loved any of the women with whom he spent time. Pay attention to how she intertwines this question with questions about her father's mental illness and career aspirations.
Which of the following terms best describes how the author presents her research about mental illness in this paragraph?
Below is a picture of Daikon. (This annotation contains an image)
Compare this description of the author's father with the earlier descriptions of him at his funeral.
You might have noticed that Yoshikawa organized this essay based on her father's women, starting with his last relationship (Toshiko-san) and tracing backwards to his first relationship (Masako-san).
Confessions of an Ex-Mormon
Why does the author spend so much time describing the events that led up to this moment in the living room?
Joseph Smith, Jr. was an American religious leader who founded the Latter Day Saint movement, of which the predominant branch is Mormonism. Below, a representation of the golden scripture Smith found. (This annotation contains an image)
Have you ever been in a position where you felt responsible for defending an aspect of your identity or a point of view that you held about an issue? What did you learn about yourself from this experience? Did you discover what you're "made of," as Kirn suggests?
Do you think Kirn experienced an epiphany when he stood on the rock? (This annotation contains a link)
Below is a link Walter Kirn's Wikipedia page. (This annotation contains a link)
Why does Kirn nickname his new home "Beverly Zion"?
“I’m Jumping Off the Bridge”
Describe the internal conflict and external conflicts as they emerge in this story. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is NOT an example of internal conflict?
Compare the author's point of view on life at this point in the essay with the way he spoke to and dealt with Chris earlier in the essay.
Kevin Sampsell is the publisher of Future Tense books, which published a memoir called Please Don't Kill the Freshman by then 14 year-old author Zoe Trope.
M.C. Escher's "Relativity." How does the author's description of the school's stairs reflect her relationship with her elementary school and the time she spent there? (This annotation contains an image)
Why is the author wary of Mr. Spiro's offer of the cookies?
How does the author's reaction to being called obnoxious inform the theme of the essay?
This line is from a poem called the Passionate Shepherd by Christopher Marlowe. Click the link below to read the poem. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following statements BEST describes Pollack's point of view on schools?
Watch the video below to learn more about point of view. (This annotation contains a video)
An improvised explosive device (IED) is a homemade bomb constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action. It may be constructed of conventional military explosives, such as an artillery round, attached to a detonating mechanism.
Which of the following is probably the most accurate definition of "expectant" as it is being used in the context of this sentence?
"Moulage" is the art of applying mock injuries using makeup and theater techniques for the purpose of training Emergency Response Teams and other medical and military personnel.
Why does Kerstetter choose to include this scene in his essay?
One of the author's strategies for defining triage is by citing expert sources like the third edition of Emergency War Surgery.
Which of the following is NOT a type of evidence that Kerstetter uses to define triage?
By imagining himself as the father of the expectant patient, the author encourages the reader to see triage from a different point of view.
The line "we who are soldiers are all triaged" is an example of a(n) _______.
The Art of Being Born
Do you know your birth story?
"Cast a long shadow" is an example of an idiom, which refers to a combination of words that have a figurative meaning owing to its common usage. (This annotation contains a link)
In literary terms, an epiphany is that moment in the story where a character achieves realization, awareness or a feeling of knowledge after which events are seen through the prism of this new light in the story.
The author's description of herself as modern versions of Mary and Joseph is an example of ________.
Aldrich is likely referring to the Celtic mother knot as seen below. (This annotation contains an image)
What Happens in Hell
Siddhartha is the birth name of the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following BEST describes how Baxter feels riding through Palo Alto?
Based on Baxter's description of "ressentiment," can you think of an example of a character from literature who experiences or feels "ressentiment"?
Watch the video below to learn more about irony, so that you can answer an upcoming question. (This annotation contains a video)
Baxter switches briefly to second person so that he can address the reader directly. Notice that Baxter himself does not scream. What does he mean when he writes, "this essay is about that scream"?
Baxter's observation that the "expert on Hell almost got me killed" is an example of _________.
The Exhibit Will Be So Marked
The "invisible network of roots converging at the base" might also be a metaphor for Monson's relationship with the various CD arrangers. Watch the video below to learn more about metaphors. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following phrases best summarizes the author's point of view on the American Midwest?
Below is a link to audio and lyrics for "Sweet Home Alabama." (This annotation contains a video)
The recurrence of trees in Monson's essays (so far, he has mentioned sumacs, Arbor day, a variety of trees in Tuscon like palo verde and fruit trees, and oak trees) is an example of _______.
Below is an example of a fruit salad tree. (This annotation contains an image)
How does this section about Frankentrees relate to the rest of the essay?
Photograph of the sign describing the Paulding Light. Are there any examples of local mystery or phenomenon in your hometown? (This annotation contains an image)
Go back to where Monson first defines "topworking." Based on his definition, what do you think Monson means by the phrase "memory topworking"?
Note Monson's repeated use of the term "topworking."
What conclusions does Monson come to about the nature of mystery through his exploration of trees, American cities and mix tapes?
The Girls in My Town
Based on the author's description, the middle of California is ______.
The Joads are a family who are the main characters of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. The novel chronicles their journey from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression.
What do we learn about the narrator when she compares herself to the girls in her town?
Below is a picture of the painting "An Orchid" (1941) by Georgia O'Keefe. (This annotation contains an image)
Below is an image of "Saturn Devouring His Son" (1823) by Francisco de Goya. Compare this with the previous painting by O'Keeffe. (This annotation contains an image)
Morales organizes this essay using numbered sections as a way to unify her narrative because it is ______.
The “mad woman in the attic” is a reference to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, in which Rochester's wife Bertha Mason is kept locked in the attic by her husband
The Bataan Death was the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 60,000–80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II Approximately 2,500–10,000 Filipino and 100–650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach their destination at Camp O'Donnell.
What does the author mean when she says that her students "lack the language to express anything more than a basic plot outline"?
Some Notes on Attunement
This line refers to the singer Joni Mithcell, who became popular in the 1960's. Play the video below to listen to the song "California" from the album Blue. (This annotation contains a video)
See the image of Tintern Abbey below. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is NOT an example of "the holiness that is everywhere in everything"?
Which of the following is an accurate definition of "porousness" as its being used in the context of this sentence?
Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and dramatist of the Silver Age of Latin literature.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso. Why does Smith suggest she might have been "a little scandalized" by this painting had she viewed it when it was originally created in 1907? (This annotation contains an image)
According to Smith, why is it challenging for audiences to accept when an artist like a musician releases an album that is different from their previous work? Can you think of any examples of musicians you listen to whose work has changed over time?
His Last Game
Style is a literary element that describes the ways an author uses language to create mood, imagery, and meaning in the text. Basically, style is all about how the author chooses to describe events, objects, and ideas. Authors define their style through their diction (word choice), syntax (sentence structure), figurative language, and sentence arrangement.
You have probably noticed by now that Doyle favors long sentences with multiple coordinating conjunctions. Try reading one of these sentences aloud to see how it sounds. Now try describing the style of this essay and how it is shaped by this type of sentence.
When They Let Them Bleed
Rocky is a 1976 film about a small-time boxer who gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight for the heavyweight championship. (This annotation contains an image)
in this paragraph, Goldberg uses juxtaposition, which is a literary technique where two or more ideas, places, characters and their actions are placed side by side. Why does he use this technique?
Below is a picture of the Sports Illustrated magazine cover described in this sentence. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following terms best describes the technique Goldberg is using with these two lists?
"Mayberry" is a reference to the fictional setting of the television show, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-8). What does Goldberg mean when he compares moving from northen California to Palm Springs as being like moving from Mayberry to Hollywood in 1958?
Goldberg relies on a combination of his memory and revisiting copies of Sports Illustrated and video of the fight. Do you trust his memory of the events? Are you surprised by any particular details he recalls?
What does Goldberg mean by "it's all about distance"?
Compare and contrast Goldberg's description of his mother's death with his description of Duk Koo Kim's. Which one seems more significant to the author?
Field Notes on Hair
An epigraph is a literary device in the form of a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book, chapter, essay, story, or poem. Epigraphs are used to provide an introduction, example, or association with another written work, so as to draw comparison to or generate a specific context for the work. How does this epigraph inform or relate to the following essay?
A Capgras delusion is a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.
Which of the following words BEST describes the author's attitude about her stay at the hospital?
Note that Yang doesn't tell the reader why she didn't go back to the hospital cafeteria. Based on what she claims are not the reasons, are you able to imagine why she didn't return?
Who or what is the subject of Yang's defiance in this passage?
Why does Yang choose to focus her essay on hair? How does her hair loss relate to her concerns about her "decrease in intellect"?
Letter from Majorca
Majorca is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago, in Spain. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is NOT an example of hyperbole in this paragraph?
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was an American historian, social critic, and public intellectual who wrote the biography Robert Kennedy and His Times.
Who are Odysseus and Captain Ahab?
Watch the video below to learn more about motif. Can you identify any motifs in this essay? (This annotation contains a video)
The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides on trees and vegetation during the Vietnam War. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.
A motif is a recurring element that help to explain the central idea of a literary work. Which of the following is an example of a motif in this essay?
"The Dead" is a short story from James Joyce's collection Dubliners.
Why did the fishermen quit fishing?
How does Sullivan's definition of his identity as an American of Irish heritage differ between his two trips to Ireland?
Below is a photograph of a "ghost estate." As of 2013, the government estimates that there are approximately 1,300 ghost estates in Ireland. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is the most accurate antonym for hubris as its being used in the context of this sentence?
Clocháns or ‘beehive huts’ near Fahan, Co Kerry: these simply corbelled stone structures are often associated with early monastic settlements. Compare these structures with the "ghost estates" described earlier. (This annotation contains an image)
Remember when Sullivan met the man at the pub in Killarney who told him that Sullivan was an English name?
Which of the following sentences from the essay best summarizes its theme?
Below is a picture of a tauntaun on the Planet Hoth. Why did the author choose this reference to describe how cold it was in Chicago that winter? (This annotation contains an image)
When the author writes, "That May, The Baby became Caleb," which literary technique is she using?
A Little Bit of Fun Before He Died
What does the author's description of Ripley reveal about Gilb?
Below is a link to Gary Snyder's poem "Riprap" (This annotation contains a link)
What do you think Ripley means when he tells Gilb he just wants to have "a little bit of fun before I die"? Can you support a claim that Ripley is referencing something other than drugs and liquor?
Which of the following narrative elements plays the biggest role in shaping this essay?
"All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow (This annotation contains a video)
Gilb has stated that this essay was originally written as a eulogy for Ripley.
The author describes the first year without Lev as like being in a boat, while the second year is more like being in a spacecraft. This is an example of a(n) _____.
El Camino Doloroso
"Doloroso" means mournful or sorrowful.
El Camino pickup truck. Tracy's father-in-law's car might have looked something like this. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is NOT a theme explored in this essay?
The Book of Knowledge
Why do you think the author chooses to quote from his mother's letters?
Bookplate of "The Glory of the Grass" from The Book of Knowledge (This annotation contains an image)
To be poker-faced means to have an expression on your face that does not show your thoughts or feelings.
Harvey points out his mother's name changes on the return address to show how her sense of identity ______ over the years.
Pay attention to how the author uses questions from The Book of Knowledge to drive the narrative structure starting from this point on through the end of the essay.
Which of the following is a synonym for "portentous" as it is being used in this sentence?
Cyril Ritchard played Captain Hook in the 1954 Broadway production of Peter Pan. Why does Harvey include this example in his list of entries that can't be found in The Book of Knowledge.
This is an example of a scene in an essay. Which of the following is NOT a characteristic of a scene?
Below is video of Peggy Lee performing "Fever." (This annotation contains a video)
In the highlighted sentence, "trembling stars" is an example of a _______.
Harvey spends an entire paragraph describing the balsa-wood planes he used to assemble and fly.
By creating this final image of himself with his parents as if they were in an illustration similar to the ones from The Book of Knowledge, Harvey is able to tie together all of the different literary techniques and themes from the essay.