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
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.