Though not required for the classroom, this annual anthology offers a selection that is usually engaging and provocative, even essential.
The first section of this collection edited by Eggers and benefiting the youth literary program of his 826 National emphasizes the playful pleasures of the written word, through quick-hit categories including “Best American Sentences on Page 50 of Books Published in 2009” (“While he slimmed down, I porked up, pregnant with our first child,” Sarah Palin), “Best American Farm Names” (“Merry Dairy,” “Thyme for Goat”) and “Best American Academic Journal Article Titles” (“Humans: The Party Animal,” “Accidental Incest”). Then the anthology proceeds to the comparatively serious business of part two, with its selection (by a committee including high-school members of 826 National) of journalism, fiction, poetry, graphic narrative and contents that challenge category. Among the highlights: David Rohde’s “Seven Months, Ten Days in Captivity” chronicles the journalist’s capture by and escape from the Taliban. Téa Obrecht’s “The Tiger’s Wife” previews what looks to be an astonishing novel. The Whitmanesque exuberance of Andrew Sean Greer’s “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” details a gay couple’s experience at a Michigan NASCAR event, which he attended with his car-nut husband. Evan Ratliff’s “Vanished” shows his attempt to disappear in cyberspace as part of a magazine assignment that invited readers to discover his whereabouts. George Saunders’ “Tent City, U.S.A.” presents a portrait of homelessness in Fresno, and the experiences of a journalist in its midst, in the form of an anthropological study. Amy Waldman’s “Freedom” offers a parable about prisoners confined for terrorism but then released into an uncomfortable accommodation with freedom. Different readers will find different delights and different discoveries.
Like a really lively magazine in book form, and a bargain considering the rich diversity of its contents.