The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003

Author: Dave Eggers (series editor), Zadie Smith (introduction)

Type: Fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays, comics, humor (anthology)

Published: 2003

I read it: May 2017

the best american nonrequired reading 2003

2003. The first year of the Iraq war. The release year of a bunch of my favorite albums before I turned more noticeably into new tastes. A full decade before my first son was born. What are the highlights of this year long gone?


  • A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease, Jonathan Safran Foer. Cleverly touching.
  • Things We Knew When the House Caught Fire, David Drury. Super fine critique of suburban values and a family whose rascally kids giveth no effs.|
  • Golden Chariot, Andrea Lee. Of radio dials on road trips: “The static is the real music.”


  • Tales of the Tyrant, Mark Bowden. Fascinating portrait of Saddam Hussein. 2003 may be surprised/relieved at the fate of Saddam, but 2017 leaves us with plenty of aspiring autocrats who seem to exhibit this nutso’s symptoms.
  • How Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama’s Back, George Packer. Fine reporting on the strange phenomenon of global clothing markets. We donate to and buy used from a favorite thrift store regularly, so this one stood out.
  • Riot Baby (Life in South Central Los Angeles), Daniel Voll. Heartfelt to the point where my heart felt it. Seriously, the final lines had me welling up, which is so rare when I read that this is the only recent example I can think of.
  • The Pretenders, Chuck Klosterman. This guy, I tell ya. Always on.
  • What Sacagawea Means to Me, Sherman Alexie. This guy too! A BANR favorite.

Oh, and I always have to say something about the introduction, especially if it’s a good one. Zadie Smith’s is great, at least for the obsessive readers. An introspective take on letting go of the classics and dipping a toe into the modern swirl, including the insightful line about writing anything: “There is no other rule besides pulling it off.”

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