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.

2/19/08 Meeting

…a transcribed discussion of “The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer,” by Julian Dibbell, from The New York Times

Carlos: I liked reading this. I like games, and World of Warcraft is a big hit. Kids [gold farm in San Francisco] too. When I was in middle school, I sold virtual items for money. I was paid [a certain amount of] dollars for [a certain amount of] gold. It was pretty awesome. People give me the money, I transfer the item, and I give them the item. It helps [the gamer’s] experience a lot; they can feel richer, and I am richer in reality.

Katie: A lot of my male friends like [playing computer games].

Arianna: I think the article is really interesting, and the phenomenon is interesting. It kept my attention, for sure. This wasn’t about characters, as we’re used to reading about.

Carmen: I’ve heard about [gold farming] before. I think the most interesting thing about this subject is that it’s something you don’t hear a lot about.

Terence: The article’s talks about how Chinese gold farmers play twelve hours a day. For a job!

Carmen: I’ll be babysitting an eight-year-old boy this weekend, and he has a [Nintendo] Wii, and I’m so jealous. I can’t wait to play.

Terence: Don’t let that distract you from your babysitting duties.

{A brief discussion about babysitting ensues.}

…a transcribed discussion of “Methane and Politic” by Anya Ulinich, from Zoetrope: All-Story

Eli: It’s basically about this girl who has a strange relationship with her pseudo-uncle. For one thing, the language…well, “charming” isn’t the first thing I think of, but it’s what it comes down to when I think about it. The kind of haphazard life, and the fact that she has this uncle…it’s funny.

Katie: The author is clearly Russian.

Oz: I liked it. It held my interest.

Sayra: I liked it too. I think it had a good balance between her little jokes and when she did get serious. I read the whole thing.

Katie: I enjoyed [the language] so much.

Arianna: I suppose the shifting between humor and seriousness added to the freshness of the piece.

Katie: I loved the ending. Just that last paragraph of how she thinks of words being like animals. I’ve always imagined words as having animal or human qualities. It was just a good ending, and I hate all endings usually. I didn’t see this ending coming, and that made me happy.

Carlos: I thought this was pretty good because it was mostly focused on someone trying to achieve the America dream, but not in the [typical] way of becoming successful by speaking English and earning money. This story was about a girl liking her uncle. It has a real twist in it, and it’s dramatic. She wants to be rich and successful and have everything, which is what a lot of people want, but she goes about it differently.

Katie: And she’s not pretty. She’s a horrible little child.

Yael: I really liked her actually. I was rooting for her the whole time, and I think that’s a really great thing, when the reader is rooting for the narrator.

{In our discussion of “A Night Scavenger” by Herbert Gold, from Michigan Quarterly Review, we continued to analyze characters. We wondered, when you read something, do you have to like the narrator or can you read and enjoy the piece for other reasons?}

Elizabeth: If I have a connection with the story, I don’t have to like the narrator.

Carmen: I was thinking of some of Kurt Vonnegut’s characters, and even though they have personality flaws, you’re still rooting for them. Most people aren’t the greatest person. It’s exhausting to read a story where the character is perfect in every way. It’s like, come on.

Yael [referring back to the young girl in “Methane and Politic”]: So you see, she doesn’t seem like the type of person I’d hang out with, but I was still rooting for her.

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