the best american essays 2009

I highly recommend the compilation of this year’s Best American Essays.  There are over twenty notable essays included in this little orange book written by writers from prestigious literary journals and recreational magazines including Harper’s, National Geographic, and several major newspapers.  Topics are completely random (which makes it more exciting!), varying from the arts to politics to a collection of puns.  Here’s a fun one taken from the book.  It’s called Taking A Reading by Sue Allison from Mid-American Review.

images (1)A yard, a place, a foot, a fathom.  How beautiful the language of measurement is, and we’re not even talking iambs yet.  A fifth, a finger, a jigger, a drop, a dram, a grain, a scruple.  A scruple is twenty grains, or twenty barley cornes.  It is as small as a pebble.  If you have three, you have a dram.  First scruples comprise arithmetic degrees and are divided into seconds.  A fluid dram takes sixty minims.  Add twenty more minims, at minimum, and you have a teaspoon.

My husband’s foot is twelve inches long, but mine only seven, making it useless for counting off the length of a carpet or a couch.  The yard we have together is bigger than the yard around the house I lived in as a child, and yet is still a yard.,  If my husband’s foot was 660 times what it is, it would be a perfect furlong, but fathom is m favorite.  It’s how tall my husband is.

A span, a palm, a hand, a nail, an ohm, a knot, a stadion.  A stadion was Greek for 622 feet, Roman for 606, not an inch more or less.  It was a distance before it was a theater of sport or massacre.  The distance between two thumbs is infinite, whether touching or not.  A cranberry bushel is bigger than a bushel and a petroleum barrel is bigger than a barrel.  What is a bushel and what a barrel when the cranberries are on the bush and the petroleum below ground?  A gill is a half of a cup.  I have read many recipes that called for half a cup, but non that ever called for a gill, which is never half empty nor half full but all there is when there’s a gill.

Carat, candela, caliber, Kelvin, case.  A chain is precisely 66 feet divided into precisely 100 links.  It is also what is around my neck holding a small diamond heart which I’ve kept clasped since receiving it some anniversaries ago.  It cannot hold a ship to shore, but holds a great deal more.  A decibel is barely audible, it taking ten to work up to a light whisper, and who’s to say whose whisper we should use.  Could I be the Greenwich of sound?  An ell does not come before an em.  I don’t know why you use hands to measure horses.  I mean, how could you possibly? Many hand or yours? Two hogsheads make a pipe, though the quanitity of a hogshead depends on what it is in it, molasses, say, or ale, as well as where it is meted out: London or an ordinary country shire.

A quintal, a quire, a case, a ream.  A ream is a lot of paper, sold and purchased blank.  Written on, it’s a book.

dee’s rec: 5/5