Sunday, November 09, 2008

"Non-required" anthology provides reading solution for overworked college students

As printed in the 11/7 issue of The Racquette.

With ever-increasing course-loads and time dedicated to busy social calendars, the last thing a college student has time to do is read for fun. College culture is limited to short snippets-Youtube videos, RSS feeds, and blogs are often chosen for their amusement factor and brevity. For those who love literature but often find themselves distracted and pressed for time, The Best American Non-required Reading 2008 offers an apt solution.

The latest installment in a series that has run since 2002, BANR is compiled by author Dave Eggers and high schoolers of the San Francisco Bay Area. They spend each year reading through respected literary journals, quarterlies and magazines, ultimately deciding on the best stories-a pile of hundreds that gets whittled down into the final published anthology.

BANR 2008 features an introduction by Judy Blume, a retrospective on Kurt Vonnegut's lifetime of writing, a piece about Bill Clinton's post-presidential life as an activist, a story on how one of the world's most renowned violinist performed unnoticed in a D.C. metro station, and several particularly jarring stories about the search for one's origins and identity.

Short fiction and short creative non-fiction, the two genres presented in this anthology, are by far the most accessible genre to college-aged students. Each story is engaging and insightful, yet still delivered in a size that hard-working college students can easily swallow. Short writing does not require a huge emotional and time commitment, but is still satisfying and amusing.

This anthology moves along at a fairly rapid pace, with very few lengthy pieces. If one piece in particular isn't appealing, it is simple to skip ahead to something more exciting. Any of the stories in it that seemed slow-moving at first eventually picked up and gained depth, eventually becoming enjoyable reads. Like previous BANR anthologies, this one has a little something for everyone.

One of the aims of the committee that chooses the pieces which get published is to increase exposure for up-and-coming writers. Although familiar names such as Stephen King are represented this year, most of the contributing writers in this anthology are newcomers to the field. Past contributors include Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris and Huruki Murakami. For those who have more time to explore the sources (journals) and authors from the anthology, it is a good chance to see who is currently shaping the field of short fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps you'll discover a new favorite author, or at least one of note whom you may hear from in the future.

The editor of the series, Dave Eggers, was once a newcomer not unlike many of the featured authors. Through inclusion in literary journals he gained popularity and has since published successful books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What is the What.

The number one thing that assures me that most college students will be able to appreciate this is that the pieces are chosen by high schoolers. If they can find modern literature and creative non-fiction appealing, I am confident that college students also can.

If you have a free half hour between classes, or even just a few minutes before you drift off to sleep, pick up The Best American Non-required Reading 2008. Who knows; you may find a new favorite author or rekindle your love for reading.

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