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 3/17/09 (San Francisco)

[Transcribed discussion of “Further Notes on my Unfortunate Condition,” a self-published comic by Nick St. John.

This comic is a series of loosely connected vignettes. The drawings are black and white. The words and pictures convey simple, elegant narratives. In one, for instance, the narrator recalls how he and his sister were lying in their beds once when they were young. She woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Get up, we have to do something.” Because she was “perfect and infallible,” he followed without question. The older sister led her brother into the backyard to dig for “the lost corpse of our great uncle Xavier,” a sea captain, and a man who’d been buried with a treasure map in his pocket. In the next short story, however, the children are visited by a different uncle: the mischievous uncle Manta Ray, who declines to spend the night only because he doesn’t have pajamas that fit his odd body shape.

The students were asked for their general impressions of the comic.]

Fiona: I really liked the digging story. I liked how it was a memory, a letter to his sister years later.

Sophia: I loved the whole thing. The drawings remind you of other things that make you happy. The waves reminded me of being a kid. The beginning of it reminds me of The Road, which we’re reading in school now.

Charley: I really liked it. It was pure.

Vicky: I like the drawings a lot. It looks like they were done on scratchboard. We’re doing scratchboard stuff in art class at school right now.

[The students were asked if it’s unified enough, if the series of stories holds together as one piece.]

Charley: The stories are sort of related. They’re all surreal memories of things. They’re all dreamy.

Vicky: They are short but if you were to open the [BANR anthology] and see this comic, you could just stop on one of the stories or you could read them all. I think that’s cool.

Molly: I thought it held together. I loved the artwork, too. Those waves in the last story were great. I felt the drawings physically.

Chloe: And the writing’s so pretty.

Tanea: I agree, the writing is so good.

Adrianne: This piece felt really sincere, and sweet.

Bora: I like the title. And some of the characters were just hilarious. I loved uncle Manta Ray. Who would have thought of a “community uncle” who just happens to be manta ray? That cracked me up. And the manta ray said the best things. Like on page six he says, “I have been alive for a thousand years and I have more friends than Jesus.” The fact that he’s a manta ray and he’s comparing himself to Jesus is hilarious.

Sophia: And I love that the reason he can’t sleep over is that he doesn’t have PJs that fit.

Bora: The shapes of the faces are great. They’re long and thin and cartoony but not in a dumb way.

Molly: I love this piece so much, I just want to hug it.

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