The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004

Author: Dave Eggers (editor), Viggo Mortensen (introduction)

Type: Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays, comics

Published: 2004

I read it: November 2015


Though this is not one of my favorite BANR collections it does have one of my favorite intros, by Viggo Mortensen. Those DVD extras of The Lord of the Rings made him seem like a genuine guy, and it comes through in his writing. He tells a moving tale about where he was mentally and spiritually while filming a movie (I think it was that horse one that was quickly forgotten) and how he used this energy to do all sorts of writing. Then a backpack full of his notebooks was stolen and gone forever. He mourned the “painful sense of losing ideas, forgetting unlikely swervings, unexpected matings and applications of words.”

It’s a bummer that is book had fewer unlikely swervings than I hoped for. It’s not as eclectic as the series has grown to become, and features several stories that are good in the way that I sense grad school writing is good: stories that are capable, competent, with big ideas…but just not stuff that’s going to keep me awake on early morning bus rides. A lot of these stories would be great to pick apart and analyze if you had hours in front of you and wanted to learn the craft, but that’s not what I turn to BANR for.

There are some memorable entries, like Christopher Buckley’s comedic “We Have a Pope!” and Kaui Hart Hemmings’ relationship tale “The Minor Wars” (a play on Portuguese man-of-wars). Some semi-autobiographical stories include Daniel Alarcón’s “City of Clowns” which takes place in Lima, Peru, and a conventionally amusing David Sedaris selection.

My favorites were the non-fiction essays, such as “The Fifteen-Year Layover” by Michael Paterniti about a man who lives in the Paris airport, and “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness” by Jon Gertner. This piece analyzes the H-word and one of its findings is that adults overestimate the effects of both very good and very bad events (we think we’ll be super happy or super depressed about something, when really we land in the middle ground emotionally).

Regardless of the contents, I’ll continue to read these cover-to-cover for fear of missing out on greatness. And I really like that font. I mean, really like it. I want my words to someday be set in this font, as close to eternal as it’s possible to become.

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