The Book of Other People


A stellar host of writers explore the cornerstone of fiction writing: character

The Book of Other People is about character. Twenty-five or so outstanding writers have been asked by Zadie Smith to make up a fictional character. By any measure, creating character is at the heart of the fictional enterprise, and this book concentrates on writers who share a talent for making something recognizably human out of words (and, in the case of the graphic novelists, pictures). But the ...

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The Book of Other People

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A stellar host of writers explore the cornerstone of fiction writing: character

The Book of Other People is about character. Twenty-five or so outstanding writers have been asked by Zadie Smith to make up a fictional character. By any measure, creating character is at the heart of the fictional enterprise, and this book concentrates on writers who share a talent for making something recognizably human out of words (and, in the case of the graphic novelists, pictures). But the purpose of the book is variety: straight "realism"-if such a thing exists-is not the point. There are as many ways to create character as there are writers, and this anthology features a rich assortment of exceptional examples.

The writers featured in The Book of Other People include:
Aleksandar Hemon
Nick Hornby
Hari Kunzru
Toby Litt
David Mitchell
George Saunders
Colm Tóibín
Chris Ware, and more

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
All the stories in this lively collection are portraits, mainly of human beings, though a monster with an identity crisis, a giant in search of love and a puppy in need of a home put in appearances as well. While the stories vary widely in quality…they come together to provide a kind of lesson in fiction writing…Indeed, the strongest stories in The Book of Other People should serve as introductions to their authors' oeuvres, enticing the reader to investigate further the work of writers like Edwidge Danticat, Jonathan Lethem and Colm Toibin.
—The New York Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
There is a peculiar pleasure in looking into an artist's notebook. Deciphering the many layers of moving parts that make a masterpiece can be somewhat mysterious, but in sketch one sees the bones. Thus, there is a pleasantly didactic quality in the 23 literary sketches presented in this anthology edited by Zadie Smith, who merely instructed other writers to "make someone up," then ordered the results alphabetically, by characters' first names. (Given that the funds generated are going to 826 New York, one of six children's writing centers originally founded by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, and now seemingly supported by every major writer in many major cities, the instructional value goes two ways.) The Book of Other People is about character (sometimes, as Smith points out in her introduction, writers chose to "deny the possibility of character.") In many cases -- among them, A. L. Kennedy's piece on a scorned husband and Z. Z. Packer's about a romance between a Pita Delicious employee and a grad student -- the stories are as rich as any in the authors' work. Others are a smart exercise in minimalism. Nick Hornby and Posy Simmonds, for example, manage to encapsulate a man's literary career in a story told entirely in faux book jacket bios and author photos. Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware provide a full-color strip each. Personality types are as specific as Hari Kunzru's portrait of the neighborhood crazy lady in her lime-green thong and as archetypal as Aleksandar Hemon's brief treatment of a man who closely resembles a certain biblical savior. Not everyone felt it necessary to equate "character" with "human": Toby Litt gives us a monster; George Saunders, a puppy. Taken together, the entire anthology provides an excellent master class in the raw materials from which fiction is made. --Amy Benfer
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143038184
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/2/2008
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 984,012
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Zadie Smith is the acclaimed author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, and On Beauty.


The debut wunderkind of the new millennium was Zadie Smith, who finished her manuscript for White Teeth as a college student in Cambridge, England, only to find herself sitting on a six-figure advance, an international bestseller, and an onslaught of literary praise comparing her to the likes of Charles Dickens and Salman Rushdie.

Born in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother, Smith grew up in London's poly-ethnic Willesden Green neighborhood, a backdrop she has mined with great success in stories that parse the immigrant experience and investigate overarching themes of race, class, and intergenerational ties. She attended King's College in Cambridge, submitted stories to a college anthology, and got noticed by a literary agent who wangled the deal that led to her first novel. Spanning 150 years, mixing Jamaican, English, and Bangladeshi into its characters' family trees, and focused on three clans in London, White Teeth garnered lavish praise on its publication in 2000. Notoriously critical New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani called it "...a big, splashy, populous production ... that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer." The San Francisco Chronicle pronounced it the first great novel of the new century, and Time likened Smith to Margaret Atwood and Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon.

In the midst of all the hosannas, though, one negative review stands out. A notice in the literary magazine Butterfly proclaimed: "White Teeth is the literary equivalent of a hyperactive, ginger-haired, tap-dancing 10-year-old." The author of this snipe? Zadie Smith, of course! "I was very worried that if this book did well or was forced to do well by a lot of hype behind it, that I wouldn't write anything again," she explained to London's Independent in 2000

Apparently Smith seriously underestimated her accomplishment. White Teeth scooped the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was shortlisted for a several other prestigious literary awards. Moreover, she stared down the dreaded specter of sophomore slump with her second novel, 2002's The Autograph Man, a meditation on her own celebrity that zoomed up the bestseller list, won the Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction, and positioned Smith for inclusion in Granta magazine's 2003 list of the 20 best young British writers -- a roster compiled once every 10 years.

Smith continues to forge fiction that gets noticed. In addition, she has edited and written introductions to anthologies that showcase the preeminent writers of her generation.

Good To Know

Smith changed her name from "Sadie" to "Zadie," "because it seemed right, exotic, different," she told the Guardian.

Smith's third novel, On Beauty takes its title from Elaine Scarry's essay "On Beauty and Being Just."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Sadie Smith (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 27, 1975
    2. Place of Birth:
      Willesden, London, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, King's College at Cambridge University, 1998

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Betweeb Authors?

    Can't decide who to read next? Try anthologies! Better yet try this one! I was having a horrible time choosing an author and a book until this one. You will love it!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2009

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