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 9/15/08 (Michigan)

[Transcribed discussion of "Amanuensis", by Stephen Tuttle, published in Hayden's Ferry Review.

This story is about Mr. Dumond. Mr. Dumond is one of his town’s most beloved residents, but one day he disappears into a snowstorm. Memories are, at first, fond: children who were enrolled in his eighth-grade earth science class recall that he would cancel class for the first snow of the year. But that fondness is thrown into doubt when some townspeople discover a scale-model replica of their town in Dumond's basement. Mr. Dumond was apparently using the model to keep track of his neighbors' personal lives. As a result, their opinion of Mr. Dumond – and of one another – begins to shift.

The students were asked why a respected man like Dumond would build such a model of his hometown.]

Adam: I don't think it was supposed to be explained. We don't know anything about his character except that he's a really good teacher who gets kids interested, and that he leaves a lot and isn't as involved in the town. But we don't know very much about his character, so the whole point of the story is that it's as much of a surprise to them who know him well as it is to us who don't know him at all. It's just out of place for him to be so intrusive.

Michelle: Maybe he does it to remember the things that he knows. If you teach, you like knowledge. So, I don't know, maybe he's craving for knowledge?

Elizabeth: He's almost like an omniscient figure.

Eva: But the people in the town were painting him as omniscient, before he even disappeared into the snow. The entire description of him is pretty much just –

Michelle: - how excellent he is –

Eva: - yeah, how much everyone believes he's perfect.

Elizabeth: And then there's suddenly this whole other side to him that they had no idea about.

Michelle: It's weird how everyone knows Dumond, but no one really knows him, and since no one actually knows him he can change. Very easily.

[The students were asked if they thought Mr. Dumond was trying to make a statement about the community, or if he just had a grossly invasive hobby.]

Eva: It seems like he's showing what it would do if everything everyone had all their secret things forced out into the open – how would that destroy a town?

Michelle: Or: who are you once you're not there anymore?

Eva: Yeah, what happens to you when, all of a sudden, you're gone and people have to then make their own impressions of you and you can't control that?

Elizabeth: Or even: how is a person's identity shaped by those around them? I mean, what is this guy really like? – we don't know. All we get is the perspective of the town.

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