The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012

Edited by Dave Eggers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Mariner, $14.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-547-59596-2
Staying true to its mission of eclecticism, the 11th volume in this series makes room not just for magazine articles and short stories, but also comic strips, letters, text messages, tweets, and committee minutes. Given that those last mentioned items come from the Occupy Wall Street protests, however, this anthology shows more signs of earnest timeliness than might be expected from the title’s tongue-in-cheek grandiosity. Some of the 32 selections, once again chosen by high school students in the writing programs known as 826 Valencia and 826 Michigan cofounded by McSweeney’s editor Eggers, venture to Russia and Japan in, respectively, Anthony Marra’s “The Palace of the People” and Nora Krug’s “Kamikaze.” Widely different corners of American immigrant experience, meanwhile, figure into short-form memoirs from Junot Díaz, Jose Antonio Vargas, and Wesley Yang. This year’s guest introducer, the late Ray Bradbury, wrote just weeks before his death. While in theory Bradbury’s presence should more than justify fantastical selections like Jess Walter’s trendily zombie-themed “Don’t Eat Cat” or Eric Puchner’s Harrison Bergeron–like “Beautiful Monsters,” Louise Erdrich’s and Mark Robert Rapacz’s harder-bitten fiction impresses more. Nonfiction from John Jeremiah Sullivan and Jon Ronson, meanwhile, more than measures up to the series’ essentially lighthearted spirit, also captured by this year’s cover illustrator, Brian Selznick. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/03/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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