The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015

Editor: Adam Johnson (introduction)

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

Published: 2015

I read it: January 2016


While reading these collections, in the table of contents I put a mark next to each entry. Not only does this help me keep track of which ones I’ve read in case I want to skip around (these books are made for jumping to whatever catches your eye) but the marks are a rough guide to which ones I might want to revisit down the road. A dash means I’ve read it, but a star means I’ve read it and would, in an ideal world, reread it at least once more in years to come.

My copy of the 2015 collection is dominated by little mechanical pencil stars.

How do you release a book that’s close to 400 pages but makes the reader feel like they’re flying through it? You compile an amazing array of modern writing. Now, I’m confused about what happened to Daniel Handler after his sole year as series editor, but the project now seems to be edited simply under the name of its core organization, 826 National. And who knows exactly how much or how little Adam Johnson’s tastes affected the group, but let’s just say you can trust the youth of today.

This year, non-fiction dominates the pages. Even in that category, a wide array of styles exists:

  • Quirky journalism: Wells Tower tags along on an elephant hunt; Alex Mar investigates bodies donated to science; Daniel Alarcón relays a sad tale of fame and media in Peru.
  • Testimonials: In “780 Days of Solitude,” three Americans are imprisoned in Iran; a young woman who works tobacco fields in North Carolina relays an oral history; Christopher Myers is a prison inmate who writes a colorfully straightforward letter to his grandnephew.
  • Naturalist adventures: Paul Tough reports on the dangers of fishermen off the New England coasts and Paul Salopek offers part of his “Out of Eden Walk,” a one-of-a-kind ongoing project backed by National Geographic.
  • Sports writing: There’s an excerpt from Box Brown’s “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend” graphic novel. This is directly followed by Sarah Marshall’s lengthy piece on figureskaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, and their early-90s drama. These are not just nostalgia pieces (especially when you consider that the high schoolers picking these items probably did not experience the stories in real time)—these are serious analyses of what the media missed or distorted.

The fiction has some similarities of its own. Reality gets wrinkled in “Things You’re Not Proud Of” by Tom McAllister (marriage woes), “Chainsaw Fingers” by Paul Crenshaw (sufferings of a military vet), and “Fear Itself” by Katie Coyle (trials of young womanhood). Even the poetry pops off the page, with notable works by Rachel Zucker and Anders Carlson-Wee.

I’ve listed over half the contributions, and even the ones that didn’t earn my little star only slightly paled in relation to their neighbors. The high bar of BANR has been raised, folks. We leap it and enter the sky where truth and magic hang.

4 thoughts on “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015

  1. Pingback: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015 | ugiridharaprasad

  2. So excited for this – especially the Sarah Marshall piece! In my experience sports journalism is generally really underrated.

    • Yeah, I’m glad you’re looking forward to that one. It’s really a great piece of writing. The insightful handling of the story and the contextualization of it all makes for good journalism. I do appreciate thoughtful sports writing and I probably don’t seek enough of it out. Enjoy!

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