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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 14 October 2012
For me, it's actually 3 1/2 stars, but that might be simply because I was expecting the outstanding. Chris Ware is I think my favourite American comics writer and I heartily recommend this book, but I don't think it's Ware at his very best.

If you've read (the exceedingly good) Acme Novelty Libary no. 18, Building Stories will ring a bell: Except for tales of a temporary resident the story is of the tenants of an apartment building, focussing upon the main character of the previous book. (If you own ANL no. 18 be prepared to own another copy of it--rather disappointingly it's one of the books enclosed and though it's slightly larger than the original I noticed no other changes.) Ware dips in and out of the lives of an old woman, a couple with a strained relationship, and, most of all, a lonely young woman. There's little drama in those lives and most of what we learn of these people we learn from their thoughts, but the book is credible and most of it is thoroughly absorbing, The art is of course terrific.

But a couple of the booklets barely held my interest. While the 'The Daily Bee', a mock newspaper, was very nice a booklet about the bee character, which actually has the most attractive artwork in the book, grows almost tedious. Another over-long booklet seems to have no point other than to show us that a mother loves her child. Indeed, I wondered whether Ware had written some of Building Stories shortly after becoming a parent; although he never quite slides into sentimentality he comes close to it. (The child's words and actions do seem true to life, though.)

And the lonely woman, the child's mother, sometimes verges on being a rather annoying bore. I've little doubt that my tolerance for self-absorbed socially awkward characters has been lowered because so many American graphic novelists--Clowes of course springs to mind--have done them almost to death, but her preoccupation with herself (pre-child, anyway), with her appearance, whether she'll find a partner, slights she suffered years ago, wears thin. Occasionally as well her social cluelessness would be in real life downright scary: She interprets disinterested glances as signs of sexual attraction to her and, when a virtual stranger gives her a lift and upon reaching the destination takes hold of her hand, her response is to say disappointedly 'I know . . . you only want to be "friends".' And onn the whole I'm not sure this person is interesting enough to merit so many pages of the book; I'd rather have read more about the man downstairs, who seems to have a more complex personality than the other characters.

Because I've a fair few books in odd formats, including a couple of others in boxes, I wasn't quite so ravished by the format of this one as others have been: it's a good idea but not a new one. Moreover, whilst the papers, pamphlets, and books are bundled together within the box, there's nothing to prevent that bundle sliding about during shipping and I presume that's why several of the items in my copy were bent at the edges and why the foil covering the spine of one book has begun to peel. (For some interesting remarks on the book's design, see mrclam's review on American amazon.)

One last thing: If you've never read Chris Ware--and certainly if you've never read comics--this mightn't be the best place to start. Instead, for a full-length novel, try Jimmy Corrigan; for Ware at his most distinctive, have a look at Acme Novelty Library (unnumbered) or perhaps Quimby Mouse.

(edit, June 2015: For what it's worth, after re-reading Jimmy Corrigan I took another look at Building Stories and afterward asked myself, Am I likely to ever read this again? would I regret not having it around to look at now and again? The answers landed it in a box of books going to the 2nd-hand shop.)
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on 18 October 2012
So Its been 2 years since the Acme novelty library 20 (Lint) and 4 years since Acme novelty 19, so it would be no surprise that a release from Chris Ware was pending.

This review mentions no part of the actual storyline and is therefore not going to spoil details of content to the reader of the review.

It should be noted that a small part from acme novelty 16 is reproduced in bigger scale within this set along with a bigger format hardback edition of acme novelty 18. Reprinting them bigger has done no harm and has allowed readers of Ware to access older material & avoid silly prices for older bindings. So in summary 2 enlarged editions of previously book published material and 12 new items. I also believe some of the contents of the 12 new items have been published in dribs and drabs over a the last decade in the American press and other places. However, never before has all this work been bought together.

Unlike the more recent and previous small hard back book format, we have been presented here with a huge box containing a pile of painstakingly detailed material. Each item within presents a fragment of a fuller body of work. Each fragment is presented in its own right in the form of anything from a simple small double sided paper strip, to a huge broadsheet style newspaper. One standout item for me is the hard book with gold spine & cardboard outer pages (bindings reminiscent of build to last robust kids books).

The outer box has a presence of beauty and attention to detail, when held upright the front cover is a feast for the eyes, a flow of ideas fold themselves around the lettering, the bottom of the box has foundation bricks lined up to support the 'structure' that you are holding and the top panel shows clouds 'above' the box. In true C.Ware style there are 3 small cartoon panels on the inner sides of the box. The back of the box shows a detailed cutaway diagram of the top floor of the building, next to this each item contained in the box is shown (by a connecting line) to have a current position on that floor diagram. (Eg One item is on a book shelf the bee newspaper is chucked on the hallway dressing table). It is as if the contents of the box you now proudly own are actual items that exist within the space they depict. Don't be overwhelmed at its volume or scope. Its contents will slowly and beautifully create & join up the dots for us, giving more depth to the current characters occupying the building as well as the long dead and gone. There is no right order to read the items in, just take out any 1 of the items and read them 1 at a time in any order. Relish in the dedication of an eye watering decade of work by a master of his craft, its a very rare experience indeed.

If you own none of Chris Ware's work then do not hesitate to start here with this set. It not only has an out of print book inside but is collectively the largest body of work aside from the separate and extraordinary Jimmy Corrigan. I would assume that if you were to enjoy this then you will want to join up more of the details by reading 16, 17, 18, 19 & 20.

If like me you have followed the works as they have been published then this is a huge addition to the ongoing body of work & manages to tie up some loose ends create a few and increase depth to characters and circumstances & history.
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on 4 May 2014
Lovingly presented box of goodies narrating, primarily, the tale of a disabled young woman navigating her way into adulthood and middle age, a journey that brings hope, disillusionment, love, despair and joy. There is something deeply intimate and poignant about the story, and it felt quite voyeuristic at times reading it. Parenthood, relationships, loss, faith - its all there.

The title itself is a nice play on words - a collection of stories taking place mostly in one specific building, but it is we, the readers, who build up the narrative, through the way in which we sequence our reading of the 14 different documents included in the box.

A couple of gripes - most of the men are pretty one dimensional: self-centred and thoughtless; none of them have the depth or complexity of the female characters. And, while Branford the neurotic bee is a mildly entertaining diversion, i was too hungry to get on with the main narrative to focus my attention elsewhere.

This is a piece of treasure to indulge in over one weekend - touching, beautifully rendered, and erring just on the right side of sentimentality. Pretty much a masterpiece.
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on 8 May 2013
Chris Ware has always created remarkable stories that move, inspire, and depress, and I have watched (and collected) the majority of his work over the last twelve years. He has produced pamphlets, broadsheets, hardback books, paperbacks, journals, and work that is so tiny that you need a magnifying glass to see it (see the cover of the Acme Novelty Library http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0224077023/ref=asc_df_022407702313149772?smid=A3NAO0K0FOUXHJ&tag=hydra0b-21&linkCode=asn&creative=22218&creativeASIN=0224077023&hvpos=1o2&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=148832994320404488&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=)
It makes sense that this artist who has worked from the micro to the macro in terms of publishing, has brought all these forms together in huge package. It is a remarkable achievement.

Also - I'm in it. Which is nice.
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on 31 December 2014
Great artwork and a well thought out plot. Seemed to concentrate more on just one of the characters....would have liked to know more about the others as well. Great idea...a bit of a sob story and not a plot to leave you feel uplifted. I loved the presentation and just the uniqueness of the idea....The only downside is that the gold spined hardback book is of poor quality!!! Basically the spine peels away. A Badly thought out idea on that one and its such a shame as the quality of the rest of the items is just superb. No order to start reading....just delve in.....A great experience overall.
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on 9 July 2015
I thought this would be a single-book anthology. But no, it's a big collection... It's a graphic novel in two senses of the word 'novel':

Firstly, the format is novel -- it comes in a curious shape, boxed up like a large board-game, containing strips, a fine book with a delicate gold-coloured spine, bande-dessinee style hardbacks, broadsheet foldouts, and more: 14 items in all! It will not fit in a shelf, unless you split it up.

It's also a novel, in the sense it tells a longer story, in pieces. In fact, you can read it with your friends / significant other at the same time, like the sections of a Sunday newspaper, and compare notes. It won't make sense till you've gone through the whole thing.

So, I guess I'm saying it's not really linear. It's not a book, but a collection of items. The story is dour. If you like Chris Ware, and want something melancholy and difficult, that's fun as well -- if that's possible! -- then this could be what you are after.

Personally, I like it very much, but you need to be in the mood to for this kind of thing.

If right now you want a good read, straightforwardly done -- then maybe not.
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on 22 July 2015
This book is stunning and an incredible example of the power of this genre. Unusual, creative, compelling and so cheap I feel kind of guilty for the author.

Hopefully this review will do something to address that...
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on 30 March 2016
For the middle aged or others of fair to middling sight amongst you who might be considering this. It's been ten years since i last picked up one of mister Ware's works, and the very first thing i've noticed is the *miniscule* point size he uses for body copy. My eyes are passable, and this is only a daytime read, in natural light or under a fairly strong bulb.
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on 30 December 2014
Hi!
Long time ago, in our work we had a lady in her mid 50's: Mrs. Ann.
She often used to tell different life stories. Those stories were always long.
They concerned many actions Mrs. Ann was taking, like buying a perfume, going to hairdresser, healing the cat, traveling to work.
They were all lacking any culminating point. They started with a word and ended with a sip of tea.

This is what I find in the Building Stories.
Stories of my own problems without any funny, interesting ending. They just go by, snapshot of life.
This is not evolving me, nor expanding my horizons.
These are the stories of Mrs. Ann.
I’ve got bored after second or third one.
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on 6 August 2013
Chris Ware is an undoubted genius and Building Stories is his greatest artistic creation yet.
It is a wonderful , multilayered series of stories. Every lover of graphic art and story telling should own and cherish this masterpiece.
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