Review: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003 by Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. When the great books and hottest picks of the year are chosen, what happens to all the rest? Are they just tossed to the roadside, forgotten and left to gather dust on a bookshelf in a second-hand bookstore? While these books may not contain the next George Orwell, Victor Hugo, or Charles Dickens, it doesn’t mean they are devoid of literary value. “The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2003,” sets out to prove just that. But with a label like “Non-Required Reading,” this book begs the question, “With everything that is published in a year, how can you arbitrarily pick the ‘best American non-required reading’?” No matter how one tries to rationalize this title, it still sounds like it’s the second place writing. But instead, it proves to be alternative reading that teeters on a thin line. It does not get the attention it probably deserves but is not deserving of a great deal of attention.

Regardless of the dubious title, the pieces are still quality works filled with humor, thought, understanding, and amusement. They cover a range of worlds from life in a tribute band to dealing with social differences (and indifferences) in suburbia to how open-mindedness and arrogance often become bedfellows. They are short pieces that can sometimes require reflection before moving on while others require no reflection but rather a quick laugh. None of the stories particularly stuck out and some are even hard to remember, but no story seemed poorly chosen for this selection.

This abridgment does not do the series justice. The audiobook permeates with potential and just when the book is settling into its groove, the book finishes. With just three CDs, the listener only hears seven stories. Most of the first CD is the foreword, which is followed by a lagging introduction, detracting from the audiobook as a whole. The stories are interesting in many regards particularly for their wit and also for their ability to keep the reader wondering, just where the story is going. It’s no wonder why there were chosen for the series, but there’s no explanation as to why these were the only stories chosen for the abridgment. An introduction to the audio edition explaining the why these particular stories were picked would have served as a better introduction than what was offered. An audiobook like this should be additionally offered as unabridged. Two of these seven short stories are less than seven minutes in length. This brief glimpse only leaves the listener wanting more. Abridging a story into three hours gives you the basic plot of the book, but abridging an anthology cannot really make its point in such a short span with just a few stories.

Most works were read by the author and read decently. Granted, the stories were short and lacked many of the dynamic elements that might require a professional narration, but the authors held their own as narrators and delivered their stories with no errors. Amazingly with some stories such as “Saint Chola,” the author’s voice seemed to perfectly match the story. However, it would be interesting to see how a single narrator would have read all the stories.

“The Best American Non-Required Reading” isn’t definitive nor is it classic in any sense but it is fun. These seven stories are entertaining and enjoyable enough that they give an honest definition to the title of the series. They also work well for short commutes or for the listener who only listens in short intervals of fifteen to thirty minutes. Certainly, no one should be required to read them, but if you’re tired of recommended and required reading, you should try these for a nice diversion.

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