The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012

29 Oct

Bibliographic Information

The Best American Non Required Reading 2012 edited by Dave Eggers, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-547-59596-2

Plot Summary

The Best American Non-Required Reading 2012 is the only anthology (that I know of at least) that’s put together by teenagers.  Two groups of teens working in the offices of 826 Valencia in San Francisco and 826 Michigan in Ann Arbor read extensively from magazines and journals to create this collection of their favorite contemporary writing.  The anthology is an eclectic mix of fiction, journalism, comics, and lists with titles like “Best American Tweets Responding to the Death of Osama bin Laden”. This year’s collection includes works by Louise Erdrich, Jon Ronson, George Saunders, and Mountain View High School alum, Jose Antonio Vargas.

Critical Evaluation

I look forward to this anthology every year because it is filled with excellent writing chosen by teenagers.  As a result, the collection offers a wider collection of stories than the other Best American Series books. There was not a single story here that wasn’t entertaining and thought provoking.  With that said, some of my favorite pieces this year include:

The Year of My Birth by Louise Erdrich about a woman given up for adoption when she was a baby and now must decide whether or not to donate a kidney to her ailing biological twin.

Kamikaze by Nora Krug.  A comic with drawings and photographs chronicling the lives of Kamikaze pilots in World War II.

Beautiful Monsters by Eric Puchner. A dystopian story that takes place in a world where people don’t age beyond adolescence.  When a boy and his sister discover an old man in their house, they feel drawn to the world he represents, even though his presence means danger for them.

The Amazing Adventure of Phoenix Jones by Jon Ronson is a non-fiction piece that follows a real life superhero as he fights crime on the streets of Seattle.

Peyton’s Place by John Jeremiah Sullivan chronicles the author’s experience of letting the producers of One Tree Hill use his house to film the series and how it made it difficult to know which memory was his and which was produced for him by the show.

Outlaw by Jose Antonio Vargas tells the story of how he came to the U.S. and didn’t know until he was sixteen-years-old that he was an undocumented citizen.  Much of the story he tells includes his time at Mountain View High School and the caring teachers and administrators who helped him.

Paper Tigers by Wesley Yang is an interesting essay about the “Bamboo Ceiling” many Asian-Americans face when they leave school and enter the real world of dating and the workplace.

Information about the editor

From the editor’s page, “Dave Eggers is the author of six previous books, including “Zeitoun,” a nonfiction account a Syrian-American immigrant and his extraordinary experience during Hurricane Katrina and “What Is the What,” a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award. That book, about Valentino Achak Deng, a survivor of the civil war in southern Sudan, gave birth to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, run by Mr. Deng and dedicated to building secondary schools in southern Sudan. Eggers is the founder and editor of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house based in San Francisco that produces a quarterly journal, a monthly magazine (“The Believer”), and “Wholphin,” a quarterly DVD of short films and documentaries. In 2002, with Nínive Calegari he co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for youth in the Mission District of San Francisco. Local communities have since opened sister 826 centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, Seattle, and Boston. In 2004, Eggers taught at the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and there, with Dr. Lola Vollen, he co-founded Voice of Witness, a series of books using oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. A native of Chicago, Eggers graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism. He now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.


Young Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 9 and up



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