The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012

Edited by Dave Eggars

(Mariner Books, $14.95, 432 pages)

Who is this author?

Or, in this case, authors. This book, the 11th annual in the series, presents 32 fiction and nonfiction pieces by some of the best, or most interesting, or most provocative or possibly (depending on your tastes) most annoying yet significant writers publishing today. The editor each year scans more magazines, journals, and websites than you can shake an anthology at and makes a long list of worthy inclusions. Some pieces are picked by high school students enrolled in the seven nonprofit writing and tutoring programs known as 826 Valencia and 826 Michigan that were cofounded by McSweeney’s editor, Dave Eggers, who is this year’s editor. In addition to founding his cutting-edge postmodern literary magazine, Eggars also is the author of, among others,  “What Is the What,”  “Zetoun,” “You Shall Know Our Velocity” and the work that first brought him attention, his memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”

So who’s in this non-required (but highly recommended) work this year? Such writers as Sherman Alexie, Kevin Brockmeier, Judy Budnitz, Junot Díaz, Louise Erdrich, Nora Krug, Julie Otsuka, Eric Puchner, George Saunders ,Adrian Tomine, Jess Walter, Rober Hass, Jon Ronson, Mona Simpson, Jose Antonio Vargas and others, some of whom you’ve read about in Under the Covers.

What is this book about?

It’s about what’s fresh and new from some of America’s finest writers, and it includes essays, fiction, nonfiction, minutes (from Occupy meetings) poetry, tweets, a palindrome, magazine journalism and more. Plus a thoughtful editor’s note and an introduction by Ray Bradbury, written shortly before his death. It’s not the typical compilation, which is pretty much the whole point.

Why you’ll like it:

Here in one volume is a crash course in contemporary American writing. It can sharpen your mind, enable you to fake your way through cocktail chatter of a literary nature and tip you off to writers whose work you’d like to explore more deeply. It’s a fine way to look back at memorable writing that appeared this year and a guidebook to its creators that may point the way to intriguing reading in 2013.

What others are saying:

Barnes & Noble says: “Dave Egger’s Best American Nonrequired Reading is not your grandmother’s idea of an anthology. …Perfect for a slightly offbeat audience.”

Publishers Weekly says: “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 …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.”

“An eclectic annual that will leave readers marveling over many of the discoveries…category-defying… All readers will find their own favorites that justify the collection as a whole,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

It’s at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Park branch now.

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