Reviews

'The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010': The Party's Over Here

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 is the perfect anthology to polish your literary hipster cred.


The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 496 pages
Price: $14.95
Author: Edited by Dave Eggers
Publication Date: 2010-10
Amazon

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 is instant literary hipster cred, and that’s the first reason to take this garrulous, enthusiastic book to heart. I’d recommend keeping a copy on your person in case you need to dazzle a stranger.

Most of us can’t find the time to read everything that crosses the threshold. Dave Eggers and the smart folks at 826 National have made it their business to make sure we get the best of the offbeat best.

Take out a pencil and mark each item in table of contents of The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 with “already read it” or “meant to read it”. Good anthologies are like that, and all 496 pages here are guaranteed to increase your smart and sassy quotient.

Maurice Sendak’s cover art -- a series of illustrations of a little girl battling her television set and winning before dragging her doll – and presumably her restored imagination -- off to bed is a direct demographic hit. If you somehow missed Sendak in your childhood, the visual parable of creative thinking versus passive entertainment is charmingly, snarkily, clear.

With wit in gear, David Sedaris’ introduction is refreshingly straightforward and smart. Yes, he makes reference to his mother, his childhood and two bad fifth-grade poems he produced, but here he does what I miss in his newer work. He’s unabashedly literary, quoting poets William Carlos Williams and Robert Hayden, (who “wore glasses with super thick lenses,” which Sedaris concedes is “beside the point.”) His actual point is that writing begets reading, and the more reading one does, the more enraptured (his word) one becomes about life.

And this is the happy premise of The Best American Nonrequired Reading. All that reading you meant to do is here between two covers. The selection process for inclusion, according to Eggers’ editor’s note, is just as lucky. There’s a “yes” bin and a “no” bin, and then there’s a ping pong table, on which the “yes” choices get moved literally over the net to the “definite yes” side. And who’s reading and moving? In part, a team of high school students, members of the youth literary program 826 San Francisco and 826 Michigan. Our literary future is bound into TheBest American Nonrequired Reading, and I, for one, am relieved.

The first section of the book is devoted to shorts like “Best American Sentences on Page 50 of Books Published in 2009”, “Best American New Patents”, and “Best American Fast-Food-Related Crimes”. (Two of these involve 911 calls related to lemonade or chicken.) “Best Sentences…” suffers from randomness, but then again, humor is subjective. For example, in “New Patents”, the “insertable popcorn buttering apparatus” seems like kind of a decent idea, while “sheep-shaped key light” is plain funny, although incomprehensible. Declaim the “Best American Tweets” from Chewbacca out loud.

My own “already read” checklist covered Sherman Alexie’s “War Dances”, an acerbically funny story that jumps from cockroaches to an inner ear problem to hospitals, his father, and the real meaning of a blanket; Andrew Sean Greer’s “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines”, a Whitman-esque take on NASCAR culture; Edgar Keret’s modern caution, “What, of This Goldfish, Would You Wish?” (translated from Hebrew by Nathan Englander); and Rachel Aviv’s reportage about evangelism, “Like I Was Jesus”, which first appeared in Harper’s magazine.

These are good enough to merit a second and a third read.

There are new favorites here, too. Wendy Molyneux’s “Best American Woman Comedy Piece Written By A Woman”, from therumpus.net, battles the premise that women aren’t funny. “My humor deficiency,” she writes, “is one of those womanly crosses I have to bear, along with… making seventy cents on the dollar.” Courtney Moreno writes of her work as an EMT in Los Angeles, in “Fed to The Streets”. George Saunders examines homelessness in his own experiment, with field notes, diagrams, and dialogue, in “Tent City, U.S.A.”

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 includes bright, ruminative, slice of life graphic novel work from Lilli Carré, and a portion of “The Photographer”, a mixed media photographic and illustration narrative documenting a Doctors Without Borders mission in Afghanistan, by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre, and Frédéric Lemericier.

Kurt Vonnegut makes a posthumous appearance with “The Nice Little People”, originally published in Zoetrope: All Story

This party could go on all night, and I’ve only introduced you to some of the guests. Invite these choices from that editorial ping-pong table to your party. You know, the one where you’ll want to have read The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010? The conversation will never stop.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.