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The Book Of Other People (2008)

The Book of Other People (2008)

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3.38 of 5 Votes: 2
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0143038184 (ISBN13: 9780143038184)
penguin books

About book The Book Of Other People (2008)

With a brief of "Make someone up", Zadie Smith, the editor of this compendium requested a bunch of contemporary novelists to create characters, and they each obliged with a short story designed around their titular subjects in their own way. Though rather rhetorical an exercise (can you write a short story without having a character?), if weaving a character-sketch into a narrative could be the closest to interpretation of her brief, more than half of the authors complied and delivered a few gems.Dave Eggers' Theo, a fable of sleeping giants that was melancholic and fantastical, literally towered above the rest. Adam Thirlwell dons the skin of an Uzbeki woman and introspected on morality and self-actualisation when stuck with a semi-lettered partner like an ace ventriloquist. An exquisite piece of psychological horror penned by Julavits where a female judge, in a daydream of sorts, murders also enthralled, as did Vendela Vida's Soleil, where through a young girl's voice and perspective, a vivacious adult is deconstructed over the course of a brief visit. I was unfamiliar with all these authors and am glad this collection gave me a snapshot of their ability.Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, Safran Foer, Kunzru and Toby Litt were authors I knew and they each delivered a nice piece here, though not quite fabulous enough as the top five above. Litt tried valiantly at creating a fable around a lonely monster, but is trumped by Eggers. Mitchell and Safran Foer each penned a tragicomic sketch of an oblivious and chatty old woman and both succeed. Kunzru played mental illness for laugh-cringe currency while Smith managed a sweeping, quiet and subtle character sketch of a father-figure over the years.The pieces by Andrew O'Hagan and Nick Hornby offered much relief with the former transcribing short scenes involving the protagonist encased within titles of character traits that should provide scaffolding for any fictional character (budding writers, please note!). The latter, with ample help of illustrations gave a hilarious account of an author sliding downhill to almost-anonymity with author descriptions on book covers at different stages of his life summarising and covering his slide.Miranda July, whose film oeuvre I am familiar surprised me with a confident stroke of incident and character but quite like her screenplays, the cutesiness padded any punch. The pieces submitted by Lethem, Greer and Toibin were for me, interminable and rank unengaging. And a Haitian author's story seemed too unpolished in this company.Two authors submitted comic-strips, one serving a reminder of the immediate imprint of character-creation in such a format while other, chronicling a toddler-to-angsty-teenager strip threw up a perplexing montage of unitary signs and simple imagery to denote mental states.For me, on the whole the compendium succeeded, not only for the more than seldom joy it gave me as a reader, but for continuously making me think of the art of character creation: the adjectives that conjure a personality, the dialogue that conjures a voice, the nouns that conjure a face, a body. There's much to bite into if you care for it.

(originally published at….I really wanted to love this book. I really did. From the beautiful jacket design by Charles Burns to the list of great authors (Daniel Clowes, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers) who contribute work to the book…on paper, this should work. It’s such a cool idea. A bunch of authors were contacted by Zadie Smith and given the brief to “create a character”. The resulting stories were to be collected in a book to raise money for 826NYC, a charity organisation run by Dave eggers which operates various creative writing classes for school children. It’s such a great idea….it should work…but, it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are a bunch of great stories here, several I’ll happily return to in the future and several by authors I’d never heard of, whose work I’ll be sure to check out in the future. The problem with this book is, while there are many great stories, the stories that aren’t so great have a tendency to suck all the joy from the reader. No matter how much I loved some of these stories, the bad stuff left me with no desire to pick up the book and continue. In terms of the good stuff, there’s a good mix of styles here, from the traditional story telling of stories like “Judith Castle” by David Mitchell (a comedic but heartbreaking short) to inventive comic strips like “Jordon Wellington Lint” by Chris Ware, to more experimental fare like Nick Hornby’s “J. Johnston” which tells a characters life story through a series of “about the author” blurbs in a series of books. These stories are all great and, if you can get this book at a decent price, I’d recommend picking it up just for these, unfortunately the majority of the stories are pretty dull. I can barely recall details for many of the lesser tales here, as I read my brain just switched off, wishing it was somewhere else entirely. I’d wanted to get round to this book for a few years and had such high hopes for it. Sadly, I was let down…not completely….but massively. Worth picking up if you can get it cheap, but I’d avoid it otherwise.

Do You like book The Book Of Other People (2008)?

So far, it's amazing! I love the characters, especially Judith Castle, the uppity, overly-dramatic, manipulative Judith. Every day I go to read one of the short stories and end up reading 3 or 4. It's addicting. I haven't come across any I hated and only a few that left me indifferent. I enjoy the varieties of characters from the eccentric to ordinary. I identified with Miranda July's what-ifs, Judge Gladys Parks-Schultz's blame game, and Gabrielle's ingenuity in saving her father from a temptress in Vendela Vida's "Soleil." "Puppy" makes us question our judgments of what is right and wrong. "Frank" allows us to live the horror of losing a child along with the protagonist who blames himself for his child's death but is also blamed by his wife for the death. I have heard that men cannot correctly write from a woman's perspective. I was skeptical of this generalization, but I came across 2 examples of authors' sex superseding their narrator of the opposite sex. For example, in Danticat's (a woman) "Lélé," I was almost finished with the piece before I realized that the narrator was a man. He has a very emotional relationship with his sister and even places his head on her lap to cry at one point. It just seems rather improbable between a brother and sister, though possible between two sisters. The voice definitely seems female. I had the opposite experience when reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Rhoda." Even though the main character's name is Rhoda, the voice seemed so masculine that it was not until the last sentence that I realized she was a woman. So I guess the phenomenon works both ways, at least in these pieces. It's something to pay attention to, anyway. A wonderful book. I love being able to read a short story before bed. It's so much less daunting than a long novel.

It's annoying to have to judge this as a collection, as it's so variable. The good stories are very bloody good. I love the fact that Zadie Smith (ed) included comics/graphics. The Chris Ware story is one of the best things I've ever read. The Daniel Clowes good. Hari Kunzru ace - wanna read some of his. Miranda July good. Dave Eggers, Colm Toibin, Aleksander Hemon all well written, nice nice.But it all kicks off with David Mitchell. I've not read Cloud Atlas or any of them and I ain't doing if they're as bad as this was (I doubt they are). I know it's easy to say that I could do better. But if I wrote what he had published here, I wouldn't even bother printing it out. Same goes for Toby Litt (no surprise) and Jonathan Safran Foer (surprise).It's strange reading a book of short stories by different authors because you can judge them against each other so easily and work out the conventions of what makes a good one. Some people only wrote 3 pages which seems dead lazy although refreshing when it's crud and you know you won't have to wade through it. Shame that the standard wasn't kept up by everyone. Really really glad I read it for the Chris Ware alone though. I'd given up on him and now I wanna go read everything that I've missed out on.

How I Came To Read This Book: Thanks to some skilled books publicity mongrels, this book showed up in a few magazines I read, and I spotted it at Chapters, and just generally wanted to read it. I bought it about a year ago maybe? The Plot: Erm, well, the 'idea' behind the book is Zadie Smith is the editor of this collection of short stories - all profits go towards a writing program for underprivileged youth. The caveat of the stories is they are all supposed to revolve around the creation of a character - a fun exercise for the 20+ writers involved I'm sure. The actual characters range from monsters to babies to husbands to friends...and even, somewhat indirectly, about a puppy, in possibly the saddest story in the entire book.The Good & The Bad: I'm not a short story reader, but I do want to make it my goal to read a book of short stories a year. Admittedly I liked a handful of these stories - about a third - but many left me uncaring, to the point of being bored sometimes (eep!). In comparison to other short story collections I've read, this one was almost *too* loosely themed and I just couldn't get a good flow / connection going. That being said, there are some really well-written, very thoughtful, and at times, heartwrenching pieces. My personal favourites included: - the first one, Judith Castle, the story of a woman whose 'one true love' has suddenly passed away- Frank, although a bit disjointed, had some really memorable parts, I especially loved his speech about waves and repeat buttons on stereos- Lele felt like a novel sample rather than a short story, but it still worked and told me a lot about the character of a woman who is pregnant but mysteriously estranged from her husband- The Liar was interesting, a memorable departure from the rest of the book as it isn't a *new* character, just a reinvention of perhaps the most famous character of our time- Jordan Wellington Lint was definitely the best of the graphic stories, an abstract visual tale of the thoughts of a young boy- Puppy was freaking sad on so many counts...- Soleil was interesting, although felt a bit Short Story 101- Had Roy Spivey not spelled out the ending for the main character (not Roy Spivey) I would have enjoyed it more, but it was possibly my fave in the bookThe Bottom Line: An interesting author sampler, but a bit too loose in terms of theme to satisfy meAnything Memorable?: This book took me some sweet time to read - but that's okay cause it was really just a surplus to my annual challenge50-Book Challenge: Book #51 in 2008

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