Author: Dave Eggers (series editor), David Sedaris (introduction)
Type: Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays, comics, poetry, humor (anthology)
I read it: September 2011
First, the only reason these books cannot attain perfection is because they are anthologies and there are bound to be some selections that are not as good as others. That being said, the Nonrequired Reading series constantly raises the bar for good miscellany, and this year delivered in due form.
Let me cut to the standouts: “Best American Illustrated Missed Connections” by Sophie Blackall topped the entire part of the always unique Section I. Lilli Carré was another comic artist worth noting in “The Carnival.” As for the longer pieces, favorite fiction included Sherman Alexie‘s “War Dances,” Nora Bonner’s “Burying Jeremy Green,” and Kurt Vonnegut‘s peculiar “The Nice Little People,” featuring aliens as a tidy stand-in for justifying jealous rage. Amy Waldman imagines a curious political future in “Freedom” and Tamas Dobozy packs a massive amount of psychology, empathy, history, and subtlety into the heady “The Encirclement.”
Shining non-fiction included Rana Dasgupta’s breakdown of the Indian elite in “Capital Gains.” In “Tent City, U.S.A.,” George Saunders labeled himself the Principal Researcher and reported from an eccentric homeless community in Fresno, CA. But the story that hit me like a stack of books (there’s always one) was Andrew Sean Greer’s “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines,” which started as a humorous tale of a gay couple going to a NASCAR event, and ended as a humorous tale of a man exploring social preconceptions and his own marriage at a NASCAR event. It’s the type of writing this series was built for, and which America is just at the edge of needing.
These are just the selections that floated a little further to the surface for me. The entire book is worth the read, and while you’re at it, 2011 is already on the shelves. I’d make it required reading if I could.