Writing about a collection of written works is a little challenging, but it’s easier depending on the greatness of the collection, which is why The Best American Nonrequired Reading is in theory less of a challenge to write about and more of a joy. The hardest part to avoid in writing a review like this is to avoid including laundry-list type sentences.
WARNING: this post may contain a few laundry list-type sentences.
Dave Eggers worked on selecting the material for The Best American Nonrequired Reading with a select crew of high school students from San Francisco and Michigan. It goes without saying that I am highly envious of the high school students who got to work on the project; the reading the students selected is excellent and I can’t imagine how much fun it would have been to sift through the best (and worst) writing this country has to offer.
The main appeal of The Best American Nonrequired Reading is the diversity of the works chosen. There aren’t any actual laundry lists, but there is pretty much a little bit of everything else including fiction, essays, strange and slightly disturbing comics, and even a few poems. The other selections are sure to inspire both readers and writers; this collection shows that there are more genres than most English teachers will ever mention. Did you know, for example, that Twitter is and of itself an art-form? If you Tweet well enough, you just might make the 2011 book. Who knows? Facebook status reports might make the next book, too; post the best status report EVER and you could be well on your way to becoming the next Dave Eggers or David Sedardis if the right person sees it.
Once my copy of The Best American Nonrequired Reading was delivered to me by the evil Amazon empire, I opened it up immediately and did not shut it for the next few hours, even during dinner. It’s one of those kinds of books. The short stories selected are original and the kind that make you think in a different way. One of my favorites was an O’Henry-esque story about a young man with a brilliant idea: to make a documentary about what wishes people would ask for if they were ever fortunate enough to encounter a magical, wish-granting goldfish. Things do not go as planned for the young documentarian.
Another enjoyable selection is from Newsweek—not normally known for its fine writing. The magazine editors allowed Stephen Colbert to take over the “Letters to the Editor” section of the magazine for a week; in response, he chose to publish all of the letters he had written to the magazine over the years, but hadn’t had published. I liked his letter commending Newsweek for applauding the US on taking a tough stance on Grenada.
A unique piece that originally appeared in Wired is a first-person narrative of a writer who decided to disappear for a month with a small bounty put on his head in an effort to see how easy it would be for a “Wanted Man” to disappear in the digital age.
There are so many other works worth mentioning in the collection that I just don’t have the space to talk about; if you are interested in different genres and like to be swept away for a bit by a book, get your hands on a copy of The Best American Nonrequired Reading.