The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2002 - Dave Eggers, ed.
Part of the "Best American" (Poetry, Sports Writing, Fiction, Science Writing, etc.) series, this one is primarily 18-to-25-year-olds, putting me slightly out of the target demographic, but I still enjoyed it. The philosophy behind it is that once reading becomes required, it is no longer enjoyable, and this collection is meant to be enjoyed. It's a good mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with one graphic short story (as opposed to graphic novel). Unfortunately, I skipped to the pieces from The Onion, McSweeney's, and Modern Humorist first, which meant that I'd exhausted most of the humorous entries right off the bat. I was left with heavier pieces like Sara Corbett's The Lost Boys" Sudanese teenagers fleeing to the States, only to wind up in Fargo; or Karl Taro Greenfeld's Speed Demons, meth addicts in Thailand; and Meenakshi Ganguly's Generation Exile, about Tibet and the Dalai Lama and the current generation who thinks exile is normal.

Jenny Bitner's The Pamphleteer contained some funny observations at the beginning, but then turned into a sort of Kevin Costner-esque ride across the country to deliver a message. Keith Pille's Journal of a New COBRA Recruit (the one from was hilarious, especially for a child of the 80s who knows where the phrase "Now you know—and knowing is half the battle!" comes from. Rodney Rothman's My Fake Job is a wonderful chronicle of sneaking into a dot-com during its decline and pretending to work there, and Eric "Fast Food Nation" Schlosser's Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good is a somewhat-alarming examination of the taste industry which makes you stop and think about what's in all that processed food you eat.

There were also a few stories which seem designed to scare would-be parents. Zoe Trope's Please Don't Kill The Freshman is an excerpt from her upcoming book about life in high school, and Heidi Jon Schmidt's Blood Poison is written from the perspective of a young woman visiting her father, with whom she's really never had a great relationship. And others: a story about a fat boy who's never really told to stop snacking (it it had been "glandular," everyone would have loved him), or the excruciating desire to be a part of the "in" crowd.

I ended the book on a great note, an article that I wasn't sure I'd like: Gary Smith's Higher Education, originally from Sports Illustrated. It's a "Remember the Titans" sort of story, about a black basketball coach who transforms the lives of the people in a small Amish/Mennonite town. It's inspiring and uplifting and unfortunately it's hard not to imagine a Disney movie with Denzel as Perry Reese, Jr. But unlike "Remember the Titans," this story takes place in the 80s—I kept thinking, but this is the 80s? Yep. Then again, having been in rural Pennsylvania recently, I can almost imagine a similar story playing itself out even today.

Good stuff. I'm looking forward to the 2003 book.

Fed to jonathan's brain | April 09, 2003