Overview

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 ...
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The Book of Other People

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Overview

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
From the Publisher
"...But just when you're ready to howl in frustration at the anthologification of the book world-I've seen the best minds of my generation, live blogging about recipes that inspire them-along comes The Book of Other People...Other People collects 23 pieces by a who's who of 21st-century geniuses and wunderkinds, from Dave Eggers to Edwidge Dandicat...Smith sent her contributors just one instruction: Make somebody up."
-USA Today

"Truly hip."
-The Boston Globe

"Whether they are old-fashioned narratives, playful improvisations or comic- strip-like tales told in pictures, these stories force us to re-evaluate that old chestnut "Character is destiny." They remind us that an individual's life is itself a narrative with a beginning, a middle and at least the intimations of an end. And they showcase the many time-honored techniques that writers use to limn their characters' predicaments, from straight-up ventriloquism to the use of unreliable narrators to a "Rashomon"-like splitting of perspectives."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"From its strange, graphic-novelesque cover-an array of cartoonish sketches of odd-looking faces in profile, stacked like ladder rungs-to its uncommonly eye- catching lineup of contributors, "The Book of Other People," a 2008 paperback from Penguin Books, is extraordinary."
-Charlotte Observer

"If you only read one book, make it this dazzling selection of short stories..."
-Eve Magazine UK

"...Some of the wittiest and wisest stories you'll read all year..."
-Elle UK

"Character provides the thematic key to these stories, all new to this collection, from some of our finest younger contemporary fiction writers.

Editor and contributor Smith (On Beauty, 2005, etc.) invited 22 other authors, many of them (like her) better known for novels than short fiction, to write a story inspired by the creation of a character. "The instruction was simple," she writes in her introduction, "make somebody up." Yet the stories correspond to no consensus about the role of character in fiction, or a return to realism, or the responsibility of fiction to mirror society. To the contrary, what Smith believes the stories show is that "there are as many ways to create 'character' (or deny the possibility of 'character') as there are writers." The title of each story comes from the name of a character or type ("The Monster") with the selections sequenced alphabetically. Many of the writers, including Smith, come from the McSweeney's and/or Believer literary circle (Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida, Heidi Julavits, Chris Ware, Nick Hornby et al.) and most of the contributions range from the short to the very short (Toby Litt's "The Monster" is a four-page paragraph). With proceeds benefiting 826 New York (a nonprofit organization for the inspiration and development of student writing), none of the writers were paid for their work, with the results sometimes more playful (and occasionally slighter) than one has come to expect from them. Jonathan Lethem's Dickensian titled "Perkus Tooth" offers a hilarious dismissal of rock critics. A.L. Kennedy's "Frank" provides an existential parable about a man who isn't who he thinks he is. Though many of the stories have a first-person perspective, the narrator is rarely the title character, and some of the challenge for the reader can be determining whom a story is really about. In Colm T-ib"n's "Donal Webster," the name of the title character is never even mentioned, leaving the reader to guess who is addressing whom.

While the quality inevitably varies, the spirit of the anthology is that reading should be fun rather than work. -Kirkus Reviews

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: 9781101201268
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/2/2008
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Zadie  Smith

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

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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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