The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 is a collection of lists, poems, stories, essays, and comics edited by Dave Eggers, with an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro. It’s a thick and somewhat intimidating collection, but regardless, I enjoyed many of the stories within its pages. These stories/essays included ‘We Show What We Have Learned’ by Clare Beams (about a teacher whose body falls apart in front of her students), ‘The Deep’ by Anthony Doerr (about a man whose mother kept him from the world because of his heart condition), ‘Weber’s Head’ by J. Robert Lennon (about a roommate feud between a sculptor and a web editor), ‘The Suicide Catcher’ by Michael Paterniti (about the real-life Mr. Chen who catches people from jumping off the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge), and ‘Pleiades’ by Anjali Sachdeva (about in vitro septuplets dying due to health complications). These stories were tender, loving, and ached with life. Specifically, I thought ‘The Deep’ was powerful in how it treated the mother’s overprotection and the son’s desire to live even if it meant he was bound to die.
The story by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘A Hole in the Head’, had an interesting premise and was written well enough for me to be held by its narrator. Though the story felt like it fell squarely within the territory of genre fiction and read like another story of hers in Best American Short Stories 2011 about a daughter who can’t identify her mother’s body. Another story in the collection that I didn’t feel too enthused about was ‘Art of the Steal’ by Joshuah Bearman mainly due to the same pitfalls of Oats’ story, in that it didn’t do anything fresh with the genre. Overall, however, I enjoyed the variety, and many of the stories.
Final Rating: 4/5
A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips is an account of his harrowing story off the shore of Somalia where his cargo ship was captured by pirates, and he was taken hostage in a lifeboat in 2009. The book goes through Captain Phillips’ actions to prepare for an attack, what he did to keep his crew safe, and how he survived. The tension between the pirates and Captain Phillips is palpable as he accounts the mock executions, the humiliation, and his crews’ actions. It was interesting to read his account because I remembered the event in the news. Though, the book revealed specific actions he’d done to keep his crew safe on the Maersk Alabama by running drills, building repertoire with the pirates, and alerting his crew over the radio. There were so many things that he’d done right, but it was interesting for him to recount and focus on the mistakes he made. And while the book’s style/content wasn’t particularly one I usually read, I still found it held up. Overall, I enjoyed the depth with which it went into Captain Phillip’s mindset and his perseverance.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.