Monday, January 06, 2003

I’m in Trouble Now

I received a message from the library telling me that if I don’t return The Best American Nonrequired Reading toot sweet someone there will send the book nazis after me. So I am highly motivated to write this entry.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading is an anthology of articles and stories from “magazines, newspapers, and zines that publish material either for or of interest to readers ages fifteen to twenty-five.” I think the age range is interesting since older teens, in my experience, share interests with adults, which people twenty to twenty-five are. Or should be.

Nonrequired Reading is part of a series that will be edited by Michael Cart, a well-known YA editor. I’ve heard of him, at least. Oh, okay. I’ll come clean. He wrote a very nice review of one of my books a few years ago. This first volume of the series was edited by Dave Eggars of McSweeneys website and publishing fame, and just plain fame in general.

I like the concept behind the title—that here is what we read when we don’t have to. And I liked the way pieces with unusual structure were included in the selections. There is a graphic story, two journals, and a chapter from a “parenting” book. But the line between “creative” nonfiction and fiction is very fine, sometimes, and in this book I often had trouble telling which was which. I’m sure “Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good” is nonfiction. I think. But I’m not at all certain about “My Fake Job.” Some journals and anthologies have started classifying their pieces as “Essays” and “Short Stories” for the benefit of folks like me. Nonrequired Reading could have benefited from a little of that.

I also found some of the selections a little predictable. You could see that there was an adult mind working away in the background. That would explain, it seems to me, including a couple of the “arty” huh? stories we’ve come to expect from mainstream (adult) literary journals as well as traditional fiction about “my awful parent” and “my tough, professional grandma.” Some of the works here seemed to be instructional. There were two good essays about other cultures. While I actually enjoy the whole multicultural thing, I wonder if it isn’t a subject that’s been beaten to death as far as the age group this book is addressed to is concerned. Even an essay by David Sedaris (I love David Sedaris) seemed to have an improving quality that isn’t particularly representative of his work.

I think The Best American Nonrequired Reading is a great idea. I just hope volume two gets a little less adult. Perhaps Michael Cart should try finding a younger editor for the next book. I hate to say it, but perhaps Dave Eggers, being in his early thirties and all, is a little too long in the tooth to be selecting reading for fifteen to twenty-five year olds.

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