For the past year, a group of high school students met at a publishing house in San Francisco every Monday night to read literary magazines, chapbooks, graphic novels, and countless articles. This committee was assisted by a group of students that met in the basement of a robot shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Together, and under the guidance of guest editor Adam Johnson, these high schoolers selected the contents of The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015. The writing in this book is very essential, if not required, like visiting the Louvre if you’re in Paris. In any case, nothing in this book takes place in Paris, as far as we can recall, but it does feature an elephant hunt, the fall of a reality-TV star, a walk through Ethiopia, and much more of what Johnson calls “the most important examinations in life.”
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015 includes
LESLEY NNEKA ARIMAH, DANIEL ALARCÓN, BOX BROWN, REBECCA CURTIS, VICTOR LODATO, CLAUDIA RANKINE, PAUL SALOPEK, PAUL TOUGH, WELLS TOWER
Adam Johnson, guest editor, teaches creative writing at Stanford University. He is the author of Fortune Smiles, Emporium, Parasites Likes Us, and The Orphan Master’s Son, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. He has received a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His work has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s Magazine, Playboy, GQ, the Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, the New York Times, and The Best American Short Stories.
This eclectic compilation, guest-edited by novelist Kushner (The Flamethrowers), is selected by high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area and Ann Arbor, Mich., from a variety of national publications (e.g., the New Yorker, the New York Times) and literary journals (e.g., Granta, the Iowa Review). The offerings include nonfiction, short stories, a book review, poetry, and even narrative cartoons. These are clearly very discerning high school students: the majority of the choices are first-rate, though some of the poems are obscure and Marilynne Robinson's "An Interview with President Obama" is superficial. The pieces generally try to engage the reader quickly, with first sentences that are either punchy ("In the fourth week of drought... the elephant keeled over dead," from "The Miracle at Little Fork" by Rebecca Makai) or intentionally vague ("At first all the mothers were going into town," from "Shadehill" by Mark Hitz). Sometimes that opacity is intriguing, but the fiction pieces do start to show similarities, with the recurring theme of characters on the fringes of society dealing with extreme circumstances. Some of the selections will not be to everyone's taste ("Brown vs. Ferguson," from the discussion group behind the theoretical journal Endnotes, is timely but dry), but there are many engaging, beautifully written choices that will surprise and delight.