The pieces in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 are fiction and nonfiction, articles, stories, lists, and comics, chosen from online blogs and publications as well as print magazines. The front section consists of the short items, mostly lists, mostly funny, some just silly. Among the funny is a short blog post - Best American Woman Comedy Piece Written By a Woman by Wendy Molyneux.
The larger second part of the book is an unsorted group of stories and essays. Without much context (such as Best American Short Stories or Best American Travel Writing) it was not always clear which pieces were fiction and which were nonfiction. I found this uncertainty rather invigorating. Is Sherman Alexie telling stories or is this a moment of truth? I vote truth. Did Evan Ratliff really Vanish? Truth, I think. Is Bryan Furuness really the Man of Steel? Fiction, probably. I hope the tent city of George Saunders' journalistic piece is fiction, but I'm afraid it's fact.
The Photographer is a combination of photojournalism and comic about a Doctors Without Borders mission in an Afghanistan war zone. The photos are from the 1980s, when the Soviet Union was fighting the Mujahideen. Coincidentally, I found out about the artist, Emmanuel Guibert, a few days ago when I was listening to a podcast about his inspiration for a previous book, Alan's War, about a US soldier who settled in France after he fought there during World War II.
The "nonrequired" in the title of the book appealed to me, probably because I have read so many reviews lately that insist that "this book should be required reading." Imagine someone shoving a book in your face and instructing "You have to read this book!" Even if it's your best friend and you were planning on reading that book anyway, your reaction is to lose enthusiasm. Now that it's an assignment, you no longer look forward to it. Your well-meaning friend has ruined it for you. So a sarcastic thanks to Publisher's Weekly for their quoted review for this very book "...nonrequired reading that should be required."