Dave Eggers

Books: Editor

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002 (2003)

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002

Despite the fact that I’m not under 25, I read The Best American Non-Required Reading 2002 anyway, and seem to be none the worse for the experience. They were right in the introduction that having the order of the stories be alphabetical meant things were a bit jumbled. It was good and bad. The book read a bit like if you were reading a variety of magazines. Pick something up, read one genre, pick something else up, read another genre. Bad thing was that the last three stories were my least favorite, so the ending was a let down for me. So if I had to do it all again, I’d read those first, and or if I re-read this, not at all. Nothing personal, they just weren’t my thing.

Despite those three, I really thought this collection was excellent. I’ve already read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, so I guess I pretty much picked this book up on the strength of knowing how well Schlosser wrote. (As reasons for buying a book go, I’ve picked up books for far more ridiculous reasons.) The selections from The Onion, McSweeny’s, and David Sedaris were very funny, and some of the stories were good, but the non-fiction was by far the best.

'Lost Boys', the story of African refugee boys making new lives in Fargo, North Dakota was very good. It seems to be pinnacle of culture shock, having to move from a refugee camp in Africa to Fargo, North Dakota. In winter. But perhaps that is what made the story so compelling, the knowledge that despite such incredible changes, the boys, young men really, are making it. Naji’s Taliban Phase, a story of a young man’s life in Afghanistan is not only a good story, but perhaps helps to serve to remind us that we can not simply forget about Afghanistan, we can not just move on the way we did in the 80s.

But the story I enjoyed the most was 'Higher Education' by Gary Smith. I was completely sucked in, with stupid tears running down my face by the end of the story. I hadn’t paid any attention to where the stories were originally printed when I first read the stories, so I was shocked to go back and realize this was printed in Sports Illustrated. It’s hard to say something about the story, without making it sound like a feel-good Hallmark moment type story, so perhaps I’ll say that if you read only one story in this collection, it should be this one, and leave it at that.