The Best American Essays Ward, Geoffrey C., Atwan, Robert: girl-with-a-pearl-earring.info: Books
Some of the essayists, in fact, are more like eyewitnesses to history. Two musical superstars are treated as cultural touchstones: Michael Jackson Stanley Crouch, stiletto-sharp and Elvis Julie Baumgold, windy. Although Ward has cast his net wide, with pieces from obscure as well as well-known periodicals, most of his catch comes from the same spot: the New Yorker, with 8 of the 22 pieces though this would be a poorer collection without Adam Gopnik's dissection of Lewis Carroll's attraction to young girls and Joan Acocella's discussion of Willa Cather as a victim of literary trends. A welcome mixture of veteran and relatively new writers in an installment that maintains this series' level of high quality.
He gives all of them respectful due in this collection of natural history essays. For the black widow spider he professes a fascination bordering on love, although he recognizes their danger to unwary humans; for the brown recluse, a more dangerous creature still, he exhibits a healthy respect; for all the creatures who fall under his survey, he has many sympathies. Grice is not afraid to commit the naturalist's no-no of anthropomorphism--in his view caterpillars are stupid, wolves intelligent, tarantulas sneaky. Neither does he shy from making sweeping judgments about the human--and animal--condition, as when, without venturing into the murky realm of sociobiology, he likens people to the hunting creatures of whom he's so clearly fond. We also, he continues in a later essay, have a feral and fearsome capacity "to murder, to become demonic," much more so than any other creature.