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 8/26/08 (San Francisco)

[Transcribed discussion of “Loonie and Me,” by Tim Winton, published in The Paris Review.

This story is from the perspective of a boy looking back on his childhood relationship with a Huckleberry Finn-like friend named Loonie. The narrator’s parents are prim and orderly people, and his father is afraid of water, even though their town is on an ocean coast. Loonie, on the other hand, is wild and spontaneous. He begins hanging around with the narrator and his parents, and the narrator’s parents begrudgingly accept him as their boy’s friend. Later, the narrator—against his father’s wishes—sneaks off to the ocean to swim with Loonie. There they see men surfing, and are instantly and for their lives enamored of “dancing on the water.”]

Eli: I liked his relationship with his Dad. That was very believable.

Joseph: I brought this story in because I liked how the language flowed. And the story seemed very real to me. It was written in this simple style, but every scene represented a lot to me. I had a friend like this at a young age. I remember how it goes. You just want to do something crazy, like surfing. When you’re young that kind of stuff seems amazing. And I like that he’s looking back on his life as an old man. He has arthritis, he can’t surf anymore. Loonie struck me as a really great character. He really wanted to make a connection to people. He was a joker. That prank he pulled on the beach was great.

[Early in the story, Loonie fools a woman and her daughters into thinking he’s drowning. He dives deep underwater, stays down for as long as possible, then comes up for a second, flailing, only to disappear again. When he at last comes up he shrieks, then starts laughing. The woman is so shocked she falls over.]

Eli: Do you think the author developed the story enough?

Joseph: Yeah, I do. Sometimes in life something dramatic doesn’t happen. Sometimes in life nothing happens. This story really captured that. Most of life isn’t dramatic.

Yael: Is that worth writing about?

Joseph: Yeah, I think it is. I think it’s a risk the author took to write about the everyday lives of two friends. And there’s some drama—like the prank and the trip to the ocean when they see the surfers. It’s not a lot of drama, but I think it took a lot of guts to write without tons of drama. I think he pulled it off well. He made it interesting.

Eli: He’s definitely a talented writer.

Joseph: When you’re young like this you think you’re invincible. You want to do anything exciting. That’s why he wanted to go swimming so badly. I think the author portrayed that wanting to go swimming in the sea well. When you’re that age you just want to do crazy stuff!

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