Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002

I'm a huge fan of the Best American Series, and have been collecting the Best American Short Stories and Best American Non-required Reading books for several years.  Somehow, though, I've neglected to read large portions of my collection.  So one of my goals this year is to read one book from either collection each month.  I decided to start with the first edition of Non-Required Reading, from 2002.  This series, edited by Dave Eggers, is intended for what would now be considered a Young Adult audience, although the forward to this edition, interestingly enough, discusses how passe the term "young adult" is in these modern times.  It's a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, and graphic novel formats and focuses on issues that will appeal to a younger audience.

I actually read this for the first time in 2002, the summer after I graduated from high school.  I think it appealed to me much more at that time in my life.  And, although I've read other reviews that describe the book as a bit more pretentious and condescending than the others in the collection, I'm not sure if my opinion was colored more by my experience reading it as a pretentious high school graduate or by the actual pretension of the book.

I enjoyed the essays and investigative journalism portions, but the short stories just felt very 2002 to me.  Like I should put it in a box with my copy of Bridges With Spirit and Ultimate Fakebook CDs.  They're just trying so very hard to be indie (although I think this was before "indie" was a thing) and intellectual.  But again, this could be largely colored by my memories of my own self-important, special snowflake, too cool to be cool mind-set.  Yes, I had that phase.

Entertainment Value
Again, I really enjoyed the non-fiction essays and the investigative journalism.  At the same time, I wasn't really a huge fan of any of the short stories, with the exception of "Fourth Angry Mouse" by David Schickler.  I felt like it was entertaining but also meaningful in a more subtle way than the other short stories, which were either purposefully obtuse or too in-your-face.

I really love the series, even though this year isn't my favorite.  It was interesting to go back and read this first book in the series and see some of the rough spots that are cleaned up in following editions.  I'm looking forward to continuing my read (and rereads) of the series.  I think that I'll continue chronologically through the Non-required Reading, so I can better see the evolution of the content.

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