About The Best American Nonrequired Reading Committee

Our selection committee consists of a handful of high school students. One
contingent is in the Bay Area and a second is in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
These students help Dave Eggers edit The Best American Nonrequired Reading.
Daniel Gumbiner is the book's managing editor; Henry W. Leung and Jia Tolentino
are the assistant managing editors facilitating the committee in Michigan.

This collection, published by Houghton-Mifflin, compiles the country's best
fiction, journalism, essays, comics, and humor every year, and introduces
a large readership to dozens of new writers and publications.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading committee comprising
students from dozens of different high schools meets nearly every week of the
year to read, debate, and compile this offbeat but vital anthology.

Want to say something to us? Contact the BANR committee at
nonrequired@gmail.com. We'll read everything you send us.

Meeting: 2/12/08

...a transcribed discussion of "Letters from a Midwestern Superhero," by Patrick Crerand, from the Indiana Review

Naomi: Well basically, this is about a superhero that's kinda dysfunctional and never ends up saving the people he wants to save. He actually ends up writing letters to the victims of his arch-nemesis. Honestly, I just enjoyed reading it. I thought it was cleverly written. The author has a point in the end: there's this really profound argument of what's really good and what's really evil. 

Terence: For a second, I thought [the villain] Jeff was a figment of his [the hero's] imagination.

Naomi: It reminds me of Fight Club, like how he says that we're really the same, and I'm gonna blame [all my misgivings] on you. I think it's debatable about whether Jeff exists. I think it's an interesting question if he exists or not. 

Tanea: That's why I enjoyed it. It adds an entirely different dimension to [the story], not knowing who Jeff is. It's not unimportant. 

{But, our committee wonders, who is Jeff?}

Iris: He reminds me of Mr. Incredible and IncrediBoy, [Mr. Incredible's] side kick [from the movie, The Incredibles].

Arianna: What about the interview at the beginning? You know, that kinda back-room talk of the superheros...

Arianna again [commenting on her own comment]: It's also a big stretch, like Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room; it's the structure that matters here. The point is the premise, which is: the superhero writing to these people he almost saved to say, "Oh, I'm sorry."

Tanea: A letter is something really, really personal. Today, we sit down and just send emails. 

Arianna: It's also humanizing to write letters. It's not a superhero thing.

Bora: He's not a superhero; everyone he tried to save died. I thought it was really just supposed to be a humor piece. It goes from "cornstarch" to "SWAT suit." I thought it was going to be comical, amusing [the whole way through], but this poor guy, his conscience is so racked. For me, when it changed from him dialoguing with Jeff in letter form, when it went from letters to actual encounters and then it went back to letter-form, that's what I mean with structure. 

Carmen: I saw it completely differently. I thought of this thirteen-year-old kid who's bored in this town and wants to become a superhero, and he's imagining this whole thing. The spandex is so ridiculous. This kid has his heart in the right place and wishes he could save people, but he's too busy with his cereal boxes. 

Iris: I don't think the letters were even sent out. They were just found. 

Carmen: Like a diary. 

Bora: But he wasn't a superhero!

Naomi: When I was reading it, I thought it was funny, not wrenching and life-changing. This is about a superhero who fails. That's funny. And it provides balance with the other stuff we read. 

Nina: I think the idea is a really good idea. 

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