The Best American Nonrequired Reading (2010)

The Best American Nonrequired Reading
Edited by Dave Eggers
Introduction by David Sedaris

I've always been a big reader. I can get lost in books as easily as other people get lost in subways or shopping malls. Because I tend to focus solely on the written material in front of me with absolutely no awareness of my surroundings, there was a point in time when I had to ban myself from reading novels on public transportation. (If you've ever missed your bus stop at 9pm at night to emerge from a reading-induced haze to find yourself in Arlington MA, you will understand why this was necessary.) At this point, I got hooked on Love+Radio, but after a while even that wasn't enough to keep me entertained on my daily commute.

Magazines, newspapers, the daily Metro... these print publications were a suitable distraction for a time but after a while I looked for something that was a little more solid. I wanted small nuggets of stories that I could really sink my teeth into before embarking on my day in Corporate America. The Best American Nonrequired Reading Series fit the bill.

I had always been a fan of Dave Eggers (You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius(2000) to name just two of his works), had heard things about his 826Valencia writing and tutoring center in San Francisco, and was really pleased with the selections in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007.

The 2010 collection of short stories and essays includes an introduction by David Sedaris, this comedy piece by Wendy Molyneux, and the "Letters" section of the June 15 issue of Newsweek in which Stephen Colbert commandeered the entire page with letters that he claims to have written over the years and which were never published.

In David Sedaris's introduction, he writes about his very short lived and self-embarrassing days as a poet (in the 5th grade) and how it took him years to finally take the time to read, listen to, and ultimately understand poetry. He compares it to how he learned to view contemporary art,
It's the way a lot of people view contemporary art- as if it's beyond them, as if, without the references and countless inside jokes, they can't possibly get a foothold. I've found though, that if you relax, you can pretty much tell what, say, a Robert Gober sculpture is about. This is something I learned in art school. A slide would be shown of a crazy looking installation and after feeling stupid and intimidated, I'd actually look at the thing. A few minutes later the teacher would offer an interpretation, and I'd find I had gotten it after all, that a piece of art, much like a short story, could be read. The key was not to be uptight about it, to enjoy the attempt. To surrender.
He then goes on to write how he applied this approach with poetry. After taking the time to read and listen to poems (with the help of this podcast), he was able to surrender himself to the words and formulate an understanding that he wouldn't have had otherwise.

I think it is important to note that despite the big names that are often associated with this particular series (under the umbrella of The Best American Series), everything was hand selected by high school students. I interpreted David Sedaris' introduction as a sort of explanation of the process of understanding an art form, whether it be visual or literary, and exactly how difficult it can be. And the credit that is due to the students who did this exercise while compiling this book. The students read, re-read, analyzed and discussed countless submissions, literary journals, magazines, zines, graphic novels, to find the ones they wanted to include in this year's anthology. The skill and perseverance required to complete this task is something most adults don't have nor care to use. It is both amazing and impressive the breadth of scope that 'mere' high schoolers were able to not only compile but also recognize as having value to other readers.

All of that said, the essays and short stories in the 2010 Best American Nonrequired Reading are well worth the read. And if you are curious about 826National, the writing & tutoring center that has grown from meager beginnings, check it out here.

No comments:

Post a Comment