Have you ever wished someone would take the best writing of the year – culled from magazines, Web sites and books – and put it together in one book? Well, you are in luck because that, essentially, is what the Best American Nonrequired Reading series is.The 2006 edition, which I have been reading in enjoyable bits and pieces in recent weeks, is excellent. If you like to read, and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you are pro-reading since you are looking at these words, you will find something you like in this book.
To give you a flavor of the variety and quality contained in this book let me tell you about my four favorite pieces:
- “Letting Go of God?” Julia Sweeney writes a thoughtful, engaging, heart-felt piece about her transition from being Catholic to beng an atheist. You may remember Sweeney from her Pat character on Saturday Night Live but this piece is more along the lines of her one-woman monologue about cancer called God Said Ha!
Through shared anecdotes, reflections and conversations we feel her spiritual pain as she asks more and more questions about her faith and the Bible and adjusts her belief system accordingly. She takes us on a spiritual journey the reader will not soon forget.
- “Best American Things To Know About Chuck Norris” – The title says it all. At a local open mic nite I read some of these aloud, to much laughter and confusion (a common reaction to my presentations). A sampling of the comments from the Web page Chuck Norris Facts
- “Best American Fake Headlines,” culled from the satirical newspaper The Onion.Three of my my favorites: “Suicide Bomber Killed En Route By Car Bomb,” “CIA Realizes It Has Been Using Black Highlighter All These Years” and “Bob Marley Rises From Grave To Free Frat Boys From Bonds of Oppression.”
- “Wading Toward Home”. Michael Lewis, in this piece for New York Times Magazine, writes the best article I have read about what it was like to be in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Where other reporters repeated rumors and gossip that turned out to be false, Lewis checked them out and shares his findings. For example he goes to a store rumored to have been looted only to find that is not the case. In this article, as with his current series at Slate about fatherhood, Lewis is thought-provoking, sharp and thorough.
“Chuck Norris doesn’t read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.”“Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding”“Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.”“Chuck Norris does not style his hair. It lies perfectly in place out of sheer terror”“When Chuck Norris does division there are no remainders.”
The book’s introduction is written by Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons and the Life Is Hell series. One paragraph of the introduction perfectly sums up those of us who perhaps read TOO much, if such a thing is possible:
Sometimes I think I have a problem. Then I remember most of my friends are also reading obsessed. It’s a struggle for our kind to send flowers on Valentine’s Day instead of a book. We think all librarians are hot. When we read one of those newspaper articles about some mad old coot found dead in his apartment, crushed by thousands of books, we think to ourselves, How romantic. We not slow down at every used-book store, we slam on the brakes and make illegal u-turns. We haunt these musty old stores so often that sometimes we run into actual copies of books we once owned, and greet them like long-lost pets.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be this obsessed with books in order to enjoy this one.Put simply, this is not required reading, but I strongly encourage you to pick it up anyway.