Read Your Heart Out: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012

by Erika W. Smith


If you need to fall in love with reading again – or just want a reminder that high school students deserve a lot more than their reading lists give them – then The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012 is the book for you.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012 is a compilation of literature selected by high school students and edited by Dave Eggers. A new edition has been released every year since 2002, each containing writing selected by a team of high school students. And these kids know how to find great writing.

This year’s collection pulls together literature of all kinds, including short stories, journalism, memoir, comics, letters, a eulogy, a sonnet, ephemera from the Occupy movement, and a collection of tweets. There are works from award-winning authors, such as Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz, as well as contributions from unknowns, such as an oral history from Olivia Hamilton, a woman jailed while pregnant.

The first Best American Nonrequired Reading

The selections are presented without comment or categorization, which can sometimes be confusing. Stories are not labeled as fiction or nonfiction, and it’s not always easy to tell which is which. The press release informs me that the first-person story about a soldier returning from combat is a piece of short fiction while the account of patrolling the streets with real-life costumed superheroes is nonfiction; while reading, I had assumed the opposite (yes, you read that right: there ARE real-life superheroes!). 

Ray Bradbury, who dictated the introduction just a few weeks before he died, wrote, “The Best American Nonrequired Reading reflects much of what I loved about reading when I first discovered its magical allure. Here you find cartoons next to great nonfiction magazine stories next to imaginative short fiction next to lists of curious arcana. Each page is a new discovery, a decorated Easter egg in the garden.”

With the huge variety in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, you’ll be sure to find new writing to fall in love with. Just try not to get too jealous of the high school students who get to put this book together.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, $10.17,


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