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 8/19/08 (San Francisco)

[Transcribed discussion of “The Winner,” by Aaron Garretson, published in Opium.

In this story, a man named Geoff takes his daughter to Missy Silver’s birthday party. Missy Silver is the daughter of a billionaire named Charles Silver, and her party is at a skating rink in Central Park. There are thousands of pink balloons and flashing lights and a hundred or so twelve-year-old girls. Charles Silver spots Geoff in the bleachers and, though they barely know each other, strikes up a conversation. Geoff soon discovers that the wealthier man isn’t leading a happier life. Silver is getting divorced. He faces charges of fraud, insider trading, and tax evasion and he’s pretty sure he’ll be found guilty. Silver seems to enjoy Geoff’s company. Geoff, meanwhile, finds himself both repelled by Silver’s pathetic state of affairs and strangely sympathetic.]

Javier: I want it to go in. I really liked it.

Joseph: At first I thought Silver was just a huge jerk. But by the end I really liked him. I like it when your opinion of characters changes throughout a story.

Will: I liked it too. I thought the dialogue was really good. It was so quick. The conversations just kept going and going and it felt so natural. The author really kept it going so well—he doesn’t give you just a few snippets here or there, he really keeps it steady. Dialogue seems hard to me. The author handles it well.

Javier: Yeah, the dialogue was smooth. I thought the language was good in general in this story. And the ending was great.

Osvaldo: The first page was solid—a good beginning. It really drew me in right away. I think we should include this one in the book.

Joseph: The writer really stays focused throughout. He doesn’t go off on tangents. He stays with the story. It’s tight.

Javier: I agree. It was focused. But that didn’t mean it was boring. Everything that happened was unexpected.

Will: Yeah, I thought so too. There were lots of surprises. It felt like you just got swept along reading it.

Joseph: And it was all pretty believable. I can totally see an awkward conversation happening between some rich dude and an average guy at their daughters’ party.

Javier: I thought it was cool that he was facing trial. No one ever writes from the perspective of a guy who knows he’s going to jail. He knows he’s going to lose his case. I think that perspective is really interesting.

Joseph: Yeah, people try to write from that perspective, and they try to make the characters sympathetic, but it almost never works. The writer makes it work here, though.

Javier: By the end I was asking myself the question: Would I want to be Silver? And the answer is no way. His life is messed up, even though he’s so rich. I felt bad for him.

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