Pulled once again from the hip to the mainstream, this collection of fiction, nonfiction, alternative comics, and "anything else that defies categorization"(USA Today)is as fresh and bold as ever. Compiled by Dave Eggers and students from his San Francisco writing center, it's a "bouillabaisse of non-required reading that should be required"(Publishers Weekly). Contributors include Jhumpa Lahiri, George Saunders, William Langewiesche, Stephen Elliott, and others.
Short stories are not meant for short attention spans; the best are as dense and nuanced as a good chocolate truffle. Selected by writer Eggers and his 826 Valencia workshop students, many of the 24 stories in this fourth volume of the "Best American Nonrequired Reading" series are delights. In the best short story tradition, they provoke interest quickly and linger in the memory long after. Cartoon, nonfiction, and quirky short pieces are included among the predominantly traditional short stories, and there's a nice mix of established and lesser-known writers whose offerings range from the mordant wit of Douglas Trevor's "Girls I Know" to Jhumpa Lahiri's beautifully crafted "Hell-Heaven" to Amber Dermont's moving and funny "Lyndon." George Saunders's and Molly McNett's pieces also stand out. Noteworthy among the nonfiction pieces is William Vollmann's "They Came Out Like Ants," about Chinese immigrants living in Mexacali tunnels. The eclectic mix in this anthology shares some recurring motifs: troubled childhoods, a feeling for the woes of American outsiders, and a sort of melancholic irony about the world. A representative and worthwhile holding for public and academic libraries.-Laurie Sullivan, Sage Group Int'l., Nashville Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Fiction and nonfiction pulled from the main- and side-stream by McSweeney's editor Eggers, founder of a San Francisco writing lab for city youth, is the latest in Houghton Mifflin's Great American Series. Even with forewords from inaugural guest editor Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 2000) and series editor Michael Cart, a well-known YA author, the new category "nonrequired" is less than clear. Even so, there are pieces from old standbys Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and, yes, the New Yorker, cheek by jowl with bits from the Onion, Optic Nerve, Spin, and ZYZZYVA. Though aimed at younger-than-boomer readers, the pieces are not necessarily by or about the less-than-middle-aged. Eric Schlosser's "Why McDonald's French Fries Taste So Good" is a fascinating but almost geekily well-researched piece about the flavor enhancement biz; it educates even though it was probably chosen to appeal to vegan terrorists and their supporters. Adrian Tomine's "Bomb Scare," from Optic Nerve, is a gloomy and graphic high-school-life-sucks-so-bad piece that goes on nearly as long as high school. Karl Taro Greenfield's "Speed Demons," from Time, clearly explains the appeal of meth and other uppers. While a number of pieces have been included as comic relief, only David Sedaris (unsurprisingly) and the Onion bits ("Local Hipster Overexplaining Why He Was At The Mall" and "Marilyn Manson Now Going Door To Door Trying To Shock People") are likely to crack anybody up. Perhaps the truly cool don't want to be caught guffawing. Rodney Rothman's almost-nonfiction "My Fake Job," disowned by the New Yorker, is amusing but so dryly that there's no danger of snorting or snotflying. The sentimental favorite is a long, wonderful piece from Sports Illustrated, of all places, by Gary Smith, about a black coach who brings magic to an Amish community in Ohio. Readers who aren't reduced to blubbering should seek medical attention. An alternative to the Banana Republic gift certificate for that difficult nephew with a birthday.
From the Publisher
"An excellent literary compilation . . . Eggers deserves credit for another first-rate collection." Publishers Weekly