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The Book of Other People Paperback – 28 Aug 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (28 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141029323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141029320
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Novel and touching and fun (Sunday Times )

'The Book of Other People is a readable, often comic, but seriously weighty anthology' Spectator

A highly enjoyable alchemy (The London Paper )

Review

`A roll-call of the hip and the smart on both sides of the Atlantic fills this charity anthology of short stories'.

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3.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book was published in 2007 and collected 23 works by as many contemporary authors. The pieces were contributed for free to benefit the Brooklyn chapter of a nonprofit educational group co-founded by Dave Eggers. Nine had appeared earlier in other publications, mainly the New Yorker and the Guardian.

There were eight writers from the UK, 14 from the US, including Yugoslavian-born Aleksandar Hemon and Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat, and one from Ireland (Colm Tóibín). Eight of the authors were women.

The oldest were Tóibín (1955-), Nick Hornby (1957-) and George Saunders (1958-). The youngest were Zadie Smith (1975-), Jonathan Safran Foer (1977-) and Adam Thirlwell (1978-). Others included A. L. Kennedy, David Mitchell, A. M. Homes, Jonathan Lethem, Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida, Miranda July and ZZ Packer. Of the UK writers, all but Hornby had made it into Granta magazine's 2003 issue promoting the "best of young British novelists."

All but one or two of the pieces were short stories. Two contributions (by Americans Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware) were graphic art, and another (by Hornby) contained a few illustrations.

As the editor, Zadie Smith, said in her introduction, the most interesting thing was the variety of ways in which the writers created character. About half the works were written in the first person. A few focused on action, many emphasized recollection. Most enjoyed in this regard were Tóibín's piece in which an Irishman displaced in Texas described his mother's death, which had occurred some years earlier. There were feelings of grief, loss, hollowness and resignation ("There would be no time any more for anything to be explained or said. We had used up all our time").
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Paperback
The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories edited by Zadie Smith. Each writer was given the brief that they had to invent a character, and the title of each story is simply the character's name. There are some well-known writers featured here (David Mitchell, Smith herself, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Safran Foer, Hari Kunzru) as well as some I'd never heard of (Aleksander Hemon, Vendela Vida and the fabulously named Edwidge Danticat). Some of the stories didn't work for me, in particular the two graphic stories which weren't really my thing, and Toby Litt's story about a monster. There is some brilliant writing here, my favourites being one by Colm Toibin about a man whose mother is dying, and David Mitchell's story about a self-obsessed busybody called Judith Castle. I enjoyed this collection very much, mainly because it introduced me to work by new writers.
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Format: Hardcover
I was excited by this book.

The cover art, the authors I've previously enjoyed (Toby Litt, Adam Thirlwell, A.M Holmes, Nick Hornby) and illustrations by Daniel Clowes and Posy Simmonds.

According to the blurb: "The Book of Other People" is just that: a book of other people. With an introduction by Zadie Smith and brand-new stories from over twenty of the best writers of their generation from both sides of the Atlantic, "The Book of Other People" is as dazzling and inventive as its authors, and as vivid and wide-ranging as its characters."

Although the characters and situations are wide-ranging this doesn't mean they're engaging.

Short stories are often seen as the less glamorous siblings of the novel but they're often a lot harder to master, and this is evident here.

The trouble is, it left me feeling bit flat. Whist there are some ace stories in here, I get the feeling that some of these writers are so sued to having a full novel to flesh a character and their story out, that having a short story to make their mark was perhaps too much of a challenge.

David Mitchell's Judith Castle, Heidi Julavits Judge Gladys Park Schultz and Rhoda, By Jonathan Safran Foer really stood out, but the rest, whilst the actual writing is proficient, a fair few of the scenarios refused to lift off the page, with characters who weren't that interesting or believable, which was disappointing.
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