In his foreword, editor Eggers makes note that the second entry in this particular Best American series is not as limited as other Best series are, “making them whimper and cower in a way that is shameful.”
Making no real claim to be anything other than a gathering of “good work of any kind,” the volume seems like nothing more than a literary mix-tape of stories that Eggers and his committee members thought were really cool. And thank God. Because if there had been any real divining purpose here, a powerful vision of any sort, we most likely would never have seen a book collect Lynda Barry comics, deadly serious articles from The Atlantic, and side-splitting pieces from The Onion, and make them all seem akin: good and definitely not-required reading (Zadie Smith makes a valiant effort, in her introduction, to define what’s so great about non-required reading, but it’s a scattered piece, and should probably be passed by). Of the material itself, the aforementioned Atlantic article is that monster of an exposé by Mark Bowden, “Tales of a Tyrant,” slyly and impressionistically taking the reader inside the twisted, Mao-esque world of Saddam Hussein, back when he had a country. There are skilled forays into fiction, like David Drury’s “Things We Knew When the House Caught Fire,” one of several items here that deals alarmingly well with the cruelty of children to other children. Surprisingly enough, two of the strongest pieces come from Esquire, whose death has been announced perhaps prematurely: David Sedaris’s “Rooster at the Hitchin’ Post” is predictably funny, but nonetheless unique, and Daniel Voll’s “Riot Baby,” an epic piece of reportage on the 1992 LA riots, closes the book with a resounding knell of doom.
Amusing and meaningful, light and yet profound, like the best magazine in the world—which unfortunately comes out only once a year.