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One thing I’m sure it means is that this year’s BAE does not necessarily comprise the twenty-two very best-written or most beautiful essays published in 2006.Some of the book’s essays are quite beautiful indeed, and most are extremely well written and/or show a masterly awareness of craft (whatever exactly that is).
Think, for instance, of the two distinct but related senses of ‘informative.’ Several of this year’s most valuable essays are informative in both senses; they are at once informational and instructive.
That is, they serve as models and guides for how large or complex sets of facts can be sifted, culled, and arranged in meaningful ways - ways that yield and illuminate truth instead of just adding more noise to the overall roar.
Earliest dates are listed first; when they're the same the version in a collection is listed first, with the exception of Up, Simba!
since the collected version references its magazine appearance and so was written afterward.
But others aren’t, don’t, especially - but they have other virtues that make them valuable.
And I know that many of these virtues have to do with the ways in which the pieces handle and respond to the tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective that constitutes Total Noise.
Which, yes, all right, entitles you to ask what ‘value’ means here and whether it’s any kind of improvement, in specificity and traction, over the cover’s ‘Best.’ I’m not sure that it’s finally better or less slippery than ‘Best,’ but I do know it’s different.
‘Value’ sidesteps some of the metaphysics that makes pure aesthetics such a headache, for one thing.
It’s also more openly, candidly subjective: since things have value only to people, the idea of some limited, subjective human doing the valuing is sort of built right into the term.
That all seems tidy and uncontroversial so far — although there’s still the question of just what this limited human actually means by ‘value’ as a criterion.