THE BEST AMERICAN NONREQUIRED READING 2003, edited by Dave Eggers
Genre: Fiction and Literature (collection)
Reading Began: March 23, 2005
Completed Reading: April 10, 2005
Overall Rating: Five out of ten
Recommendation to others: I wouldn’t necessarily call the entries in this collection the “best”, as they are definitely subjective choices, but there are quite a few very good and even great selections included here. It’s a worthy collection for anyone interested in not-quite-bestseller authors and works.
Why I chose to read this book: Curiosity, mostly. And an offering on the BookRelay allowed me to jump right in. Why I chose to move it forward in my reading list? That BookRelay promise again.
Other titles by this author: The entry by ZZ Packer were enjoyable enough that I might want to check out further titles.
Comments: I enjoyed most of the entries in this collection of “Best” Nonrequired Reading, but I did skip over a couple. I’ve still no interest in David Sedaris, despite his talent, and I had no desire to continue “Touching Him” after the first paragraph. Otherwise, the collection is enjoyable, intriguing, provocative, and in some cases, enlightening. I recommend the book with a caution that all titles will not appeal to everyone. And I suggest skipping the foreward by Dave Eggers, as it adds nothing but background about the book series, as well as the introduction by Zadie Smith, as it bored me to death after the first page. The stories are the focus here and should be allowed to dominate.
Don’t panic when lyrics to songs by Van Halen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Journey fill the space in your brain previously reserved for algebra problems, figure-skating schedules, and your dad’s new phone number. Realize that you can memorize a song after hearing it only three times. Trace a Rush album cover onto the title page of your English composition binder. Ask your mom if you can take guitar lessons. She tells you to dry the dishes, and when you’re done, to take the garbage out. Drag the flimsy bag over the gravel, check to see if any neighbors are around, then sing into the dark suburban sky: She’s just a small-town girl…She took the midnight train going anywhere… Wonder if Steve Perry wrote that song after he peered behind your homemade curtains into the 3-bdr, 2-bath, crpt, frplc, wtw shag, split-level and watched you, alone at the kitchen table, illuminated by the light over the stove, waiting for the avocado phone to ring. “The Guide to Being a Groupie” by Lisa Gabriele (p. 143)
When you think about it, it’s really the mundane things that make life interesting. Attending pro-wrestling matches, shopping at the mall, riding a Greyhound bus, eating at McDonald’s, seeing conventionally crowd-pleasing movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding—such things may seem like lowbrow wastes of time, but they really help one maintain a sense of oneself. If you can do such things and still maintain your sense of haughty superiority, you’ve done more than merely lived. You’ve tasted the sickly sweet nectar that life has to offer and said, “I am above this. I am better than this. This is beneath me, but I will still do it because I’m open-minded enough to try anything and look down my nose at it at least once.” “I’ll Try Anything with a Detached Air of Superiority” from The Onion (p. 223)
On balance, in spite of its problems, I have become a convert to used clothing. Africans want it. It gives them dignity and choice. But now that I have seen them prize so highly, and with such profound effects, what we throw away without a thought, the trail of Susie Bayer’s t-shirt only seems to tell one story, a very old one, about the unfairness of the world as it is. “Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt” by George Packer (p. 236)