Fiction and nonfiction pulled from the main- and side-stream by McSweeney’s editor Eggers, founder of a San Francisco writing lab for city youth, is the latest in Houghton Mifflin’s Great American Series.
Even with forewords from inaugural guest editor Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 2000) and series editor Michael Cart, a well-known YA author, the new category “nonrequired” is less than clear. Even so, there are pieces from old standbys Esquire, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and, yes, the New Yorker, cheek by jowl with bits from the Onion, Optic Nerve, Spin, and ZYZZYVA. Though aimed at younger-than-boomer readers, the pieces are not necessarily by or about the less-than-middle-aged. Eric Schlosser’s “Why McDonald’s French Fries Taste So Good” is a fascinating but almost geekily well-researched piece about the flavor enhancement biz; it educates even though it was probably chosen to appeal to vegan terrorists and their supporters. Adrian Tomine’s “Bomb Scare,” from Optic Nerve, is a gloomy and graphic high-school-life-sucks-so-bad piece that goes on nearly as long as high school. Karl Taro Greenfield’s “Speed Demons,” from Time, clearly explains the appeal of meth and other uppers. While a number of pieces have been included as comic relief, only David Sedaris (unsurprisingly) and the Onion bits (“Local Hipster Overexplaining Why He Was At The Mall” and “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door To Door Trying To Shock People”) are likely to crack anybody up. Perhaps the truly cool don’t want to be caught guffawing. Rodney Rothman’s almost-nonfiction “My Fake Job,” disowned by the New Yorker, is amusing but so dryly that there’s no danger of snorting or snot flying. The sentimental favorite is a long, wonderful piece from Sports Illustrated, of all places, by Gary Smith, about a black coach who brings magic to an Amish community in Ohio. Readers who aren’t reduced to blubbering should seek medical attention.
An alternative to the Banana Republic gift certificate for that difficult nephew with a birthday.