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True Tales of American Life [Paperback]

Paul Auster
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Oct 2002
Chosen by Paul Auster out of the four thousand stories submitted to his radio programme on National Public Radio, these 180 stories provide a wonderful portrait of America in the 20th century. The requirement for selection was that each of the stories should be true, and each of the writers should not have been previously published. The collection that has emerged provides a richly varied and authentic voice for the American people, whose lives, loves, griefs, regrets, joys and sense of humour are vividly and honestly recounted throughout, and adeptly organised by Auster into themed sections. The section composed of war stories stretches as far back as the Civil War, still the defining moment in American history; while the sequence of 'Meditations' conclude the volume with a true and abiding sense of transcendence.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New Ed edition (7 Oct 2002)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 0571210708
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571210701
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 23,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

True Tales of American Life is a collection derived from a project launched by Paul Auster on US National Public Radio. Auster credits his wife with the idea of having listeners send in their own short pieces of true-life writing, from which Auster would choose half a dozen to be read on air each week. But, for all the success of the radio programme, as Auster writes, "you can't hold the words in your hands". Here, then, is the fully "holdable" book. Auster has selected 179 pieces from the 4,000 plus he had received by October 2000. Split fairly evenly between male and female authors, with an age range of 20 to "pushing 90", the collection revels in its multifariousness: the contributors include "a postman, a merchant seaman, a trolley-bus driver, a gas-and-electric-meter reader, a restorer of player pianos, a crime-scene cleaner", and so on. The biographical detail is relevant because inevitably most of these true stories draw on the rawest of raw materials, the writers' own experience.

Auster wanted "true stories that sounded like fiction". In an age where talk shows (think Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake) demand that we tell our life stories as fiction--and encourage us to live our lives as fiction--it's a particularly timely and potent meeting place of reality and art, or in Auster's words, "an archive of facts, a museum of American reality" in fictional form. Unlike Auster, who regularly has to wade through 60 of these tales in a day to meet his weekly radio deadlines, the regular reader can dip in and out. And at a rate of, say, one story per day, this book will keep you fascinated with (and occasionally horrified at) American's true life tales for just about six months. --Alan Stewart --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Fantastic stuff. -- The Face, December 2001

It is difficult to think of another book published this year ... that is ... so excellent in intention and so elegant in its execution. -- Guardian, December 2001

Paul Auster’s astonishing anthology … Where truth and beauty conflict or compete, Auster has opted for elegance of form, or measure of performability. -- Sunday Herald, December 2001

This is writing at its very finest - done by a bunch of amateurs. -- Independent, December 2001

Unforgettable. The 179 stories are beautifully written and intensely emotional. -- Dazed and Confused, December 2001

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Share It! 30 April 2003
By Rich
I was bought this book as a present, by someone who had only read the first story about the chicken. The great thing about it is that you can stop wherever you like in the book, and carry on later. Its an ideal book to be reading alongside your novel.
The best part is that some of the stories you instantly want to tell the first person you see about, and others remind you of tales of chance, coincidence or just quirkiness from your own or your friends experiences.
All in all a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable book
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book was almost never written. If it had not been for a chance remark by the author's wife these real life stories would have remained in the minds (and hearts) of the American people and we would be the poorer for it.
As part of the National Story Project the public were asked to send in their real life stories. They could be about anything, no restrictions applied apart from keeping them short and those selected were to be read on air. Inundated with over 4000 submissions Paul Auster realised that he had to share more than the select few that were to be read out on air. Recording them in a book was the logical thing and so 180 were chosen to form True Tales of American Life.
The book is divided into 'category' style chapters, which does mean that the stories in each section all have a similar theme. Despite each story being original this can be at times become a bit monotonous and maybe the best way to read the book is to dip in from time to time rather than start to finish.
The stories are captivating, simple, and straightforward and always thought provoking. As you start reading the book you have to remind yourself that these are about real life. Some of them are so extraordinary that you would naturally assume they were works of fiction. Others are so painful that they can be nothing but true. If you have ever thought that fate plays a part in our lives then this book will confirm it and if not then it might just make you start thinking about it.
An absolute must read.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant museum of American weirdness 28 Dec 2001
Paul Auster once said 'stories happen to people who can tell them.' Here he has taken his words at their face value and produced an amazing document - an anthology of 200 true stories sent in to the National Story Project by ordinary yanks. Synchronicity, destiny and slapstick combine to make fantastic reading.
Paul Auster is an amazing writer and here he has tried an amazing experiment and it doesn't just work - there's something almost scary and magic in the result. Read these stories one a day for six months or gobble them down... - either way I think something in this book might change your life. Highly recomended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read 27 Feb 2002
By A Customer
If you have read "A place called bird" by Tony Parker in the 1980s (where Tony Parker interviewed a broad range of people living in Bird, Kansas and recorded their stories ranging from the ordinary to the extraordinary), you will enjoy this book. I bought this book with the feeling that it could be a hit or a miss. Definitely a hit and a cause for too little sleep for me over several nights as I can't put it down...just one more, just one more...
This book raises the experiences of "normal" people to a high plane. Often the stories are simply written, relating everyday events, and they are all the more powerful for that.
Auster said he couldn't imagine anyone getting from cover to cover without shedding a tear or laughing. True.
A fascinating read. If you enjoy it, follow it up with "A town called bird"!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone must read this book! 10 Feb 2003
After the stresses of a long break from University, a relaxing Christmas and an amazing New Year, and the stress of not having a single exam I was in need of a week in the sun. Four friends joined me on a trip to Spain.
The talking point of our holiday however wasn’t the weather, it wasn’t my mates sunburn, nor was it the cheap food and alcohol. It was a book.
‘True Tales Of American Life’ had us all transfixed. It is a collection of stories submitted by listeners of America’s national public radio, and it has the ability to make even the coldest of hearts shed a tear. There are some wonderfully happy stories that will make you laugh out-loud, there are stories to make you cringe and grimace and some to question or confirm your belief in fate. This book is unique. It works really well on a personal level, different stories will mean different things to different people, but I’m sure that at least one will strike a chord with the reader. The writing is open, frank and honest, none of the authors are professional, just everyday people with interesting stories to tell.
While we were away, everyone picked up the book, even those who don’t usually pick up books struggled to put it down. I no longer have my copy, it’s been passed from friend to friend, and I’m yet to hear a bad thing about it.
True Tales of American life gets my full recommendation, go out and buy or borrow it now, unless you have mine of course, and in that case I’d like it back!
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Norman Mailer once said that the average American's attention span was fifteen minutes - as that was the time until the next commercial.
This collection of stories is perfect for anyone who fits into this category.
Paul Auster has a peculiar knack of giving anything associated with him an 'Austerian feel', and these stories are no exception. Many are sentimental, a few are badly written, some are fantastic, but each one deserves its place and gives something unique to the book.
It has the same fascination for a Englishman that road movies have. Somehow, trivial events just count for more in America. Somewhere in that vastness, the magic that these writers imply just may be possible. And 'possibility' is the key to all of Auster's work. You might not get your wish, but keep your eyes open and you might get something better.
'True Tales...' isn't about writing style, cinematic sweep, or literary prizes, it is about a feeling, an attitude, a humanity. Something that fifteen minutes of television just doesn't give you.
You want a breakfast cereal, watch t.v.; you want to feel that life can be a bit more than that, buy the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Great condition
Published 15 days ago by TJ MCGINN
4.0 out of 5 stars Tales of life
This book was recommended to my husband as part of a writing course he's studying for. For someone who doesn't normally read non-fiction books ...he enjoyed this book. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Yoshi fan67
4.0 out of 5 stars Grimy, superstitious page turner
Paul Auster says it was his wife's idea to invite the audience of National Public Radio to submit their real life stories:"The stories had to be true, and they had to be short, but... Read more
Published on 28 May 2011 by Emily - London
5.0 out of 5 stars A Really Good Book
Replacement book for husband after his copy was loaned out and not returned! He was so happy to get another he read it cover to cover again. Read more
Published on 5 May 2011 by Mary Waters
4.0 out of 5 stars True Tales......a good Holiday Read....
I have read True Tales of American Life perhaps 5 or 6 times since I purchased it some years ago. It contains the 'true life tales' of American people of all ages and backgrounds... Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2010 by Amazon CustomerJohn from Bewdley
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing idea
It's a book which gives you a pleasure to red. It's ab overview of american lifestyle caming form the story of the people. Read more
Published on 13 Jun 2008 by Brambini Michela
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed bag - obviously.
I agree with all the other reviews! There are too many banal tales of dubious coincidences, but there are enough gems to make it worthwhile. Read more
Published on 26 Jan 2007 by Booky
1.0 out of 5 stars Bores reunited
I had high hopes of this book but frankly it's rather dull. There are one or two arresting anecdotes but the rest plods, wiht far too many of the tales revolving around... Read more
Published on 2 Sep 2004 by M. G. James
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe the hype
Despite the praise that has been lavished on 'True Tales of American Life', and despite the wholly admirable intent with which the collection was commissioned, it's actually not... Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2003 by "dave_taurus"
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing
This is a totally engrossing book. I felt like I'd been invited to share in the experiences of a huge range of people, just to touch their lives for a few minutes. Read more
Published on 7 Jan 2003
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