Twitter, Facebook, iPads, iPhones, Droids, PS4, XBox, Movies, more TV shows than ever before, Siri, high-speed internet, more podcasts than there are...moreTwitter, Facebook, iPads, iPhones, Droids, PS4, XBox, Movies, more TV shows than ever before, Siri, high-speed internet, more podcasts than there are human beings on this Earth, Spotify, satellite radio, Pandora, Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, and shitty 3D movies. We have sure made it quite easy for kids these days to have no desire to read. When I was young I had no real desire to read, and most of this stuff did not even exist back then. It was not until after dropping out of grad school that I read A Visit from the Goon Squad, discovered Dan Chaon and his great novel Await Your Reply, and then began reading David Foster Wallace, which eventually caused me to ask myself, “holy shit, were books always this good?”
I do not envy teachers and parents who have to convince young kids to read in today’s world. Remembering my allergic nature to literature in my youth makes me even happier to have discovered the Best American Nonrequired Reading series. It’s great to see so many young people interested in reading contemporary literature and longform journalism. And they put together a kickass collection each year too! I’ve been reading this series since 2011 and it is always one of my favorite reading experiences of the year. Kudos to 826 National and these impressive young people.
The young people that make up the BANR committee curate a mix of short stories and longform non-fiction each year. I thought they really outdid themselves this year and found this collection to be excellent. This year’s collection contains a mix of writers that are favorites of mine – Pam Colloff, Jennifer Egan, Karen Russell – and writers that are new to me. There is so much here that I ended up loving that’s it’s hard to pick favorites.
The ones that stick out are: 1) Hannah and Andrew by Pam Colloff - Pam writes for Texas Monthly and specializes in true crime stories in Texas and their fair share of wrongful convictions. Reading about Hannah’s imprisonment is heartbreaking but Pam is an amazing writer. Also be sure to read her landmark piece on Michael Morton, who was wrongfully imprisoned for his wife’s murder for 25 years. 2) Black Box by Jennifer Egan - A great story that Egan originally published through the New Yorker’s Twitter account ironically enough; 3) The Blind Faith of the One-Eyed Matador by Karen Russell - Russell is great and you knew that, but just read the title of that one and tell me you don’t want to read it. 4) Human Snowball by Davy Rothbart - a hilarious essay of a very interesting road trip Rothbart took that starts with meeting a 110-year old on a Greyhound bus; 5) Finding Oscar by Ana Arana and Sebastian Rotella - an amazing piece of journalism that reveals a fascinating story involving Oscar’s upbringing and a certain massacre in Guatemala.
The Best American Nonrequired Reading series is literature’s version of a potpourri. Do you have a short attention span in this day and age of distraction? That’s ok. Pick this up and you have several stories and nonfiction to go through at your leisure instead of a big, chunky novel/doorstop. It will also help that this year’s BANR collection is as good as it gets. (less)