The Boston Globe
A powerful book, one in which strangers share with you their darkest secrets, their happiest memories, their fears, their regrets. To read these essays is to look into hearts, to see life from other viewpoints, to live vicariously.
Us Weekly (starred review)
Unforgettable testimonials of human resilience. Moving and amusing dispatches from across America.
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
Human foibles and frailties, laughter and tears...We are all hearingand tellingstories all the time, especially now, in these days when life itself seems so fragile and precious. But Paul Auster's wonderful efforts, choosing these fine stories, have given us a timely and invaluable reminder of what it means to listento really listento America talking.
The Guardian (UK)
It is difficult to think of another book published this year, and probably any book to be published next year, that is so simple and so obvious, so excellent in intention and so elegant in its execution, and which displays such wisdom and such knowledge of human life in all its varieties. It is also difficult to think of a book that is so stark a reminder that human experience can be horrid and utterly unbelievable, and which therefore answers so precisely to our current needs and circumstances.
Ploughshares Philip Levine
Like no other book I have read in years, this one restored my belief in Americans and the American experience.
Famed author Paul Auster presents 180 of the "true tales" from National Public Radio's monthly National Story Project series. The vividly personal biographies come from men and women of every conceivable background and cover more than 40 U.S. states. The accounts are short but powerful; they include everything from amusing misunderstandings to heartbreakingly tragic moments. The result is nothing less than what Auster himself describes as "an archive of facts, a museum of American reality."
This is a moving collection of stories that realizes the audio format's best possibilities. Culled from a collaboration between novelist Auster (Leviathan) and National Public Radio's All Things Considered, these slices of the American experience are real-life tales from people all over the country on a range of subjects. Since Auster himself selected the stories, it's no surprise that they echo his own approach while reading them: comfortable and emotive, with dexterous use of the power of understatement. Auster's tone is engaging, if a bit mellow, but what comes across more than anything is his genuine concern for the stories themselves and his belief in their merits. He keeps his dramatization to a minimum in order to let those merits shine through, and the recording is sure to leave listeners alternately smiling, nostalgic or melancholic. Even if a particular piece doesn't strike a chord, listeners won't be disappointed for long, as one of the production's finer points is its variety. Each tale lasts only a few minutes, but many of the images linger much longer. And because the stories were originally intended for radio, this is one instance where the audio is preferred over the print version. Based on the Holt hardcover (Forecasts, June 4, 2001). (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In 2001, when NPR asked Auster to become a regular storyteller on Weekend All Things Considered, he wasn't interested. Then his wife suggested that he ask people to send him their stories to read on the air, and a few months later the National Story Project with was born. From some 4000 stories, Auster has selected 179, grouping them in loose categories: animals, objects, families, slapstick, strangers, war, love, death, dreams, and meditations. All are short, all are true, and they can be sad, hilarious, or both at the same time. In the title piece, Robert Winnie's father tells someone to drop dead and he does! In another, a grandson who has made his grandmother furious hears his grandfather tell him, "You are my revenge." Others tell of impossible coincidences, difficult lives, and wonderful comebacks. As this collection ably proves, we all shape experience into stories, and Auster has done a storyteller's job himself of grouping the pieces effectively. Highly recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/01.] Mary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., Westminster, CO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Auster was on the verge of saying no to an offer to tell his own stories on the air when a chance remark by his wife changed the complexion and ultimately the direction of a National Public Radio project. She suggested that listeners be invited to make submissions. With that, the remarkable National Story Project was born. The rules were relatively simple; the stories had to be true and they had to be short. Four thousand people sent in their work. After just a few months, it became evident to Auster that too many good stories were coming in and that a book would be necessary to do justice to the project. He chose what he considered to be the best-179 pieces, written by individuals ranging in age from 20 to 90, from all walks of life, and touching on everything from the amazing to the poignant. Readers will turn pages to see if the next story is just as memorable as the one before, and it is. This is a wonderful book about some incredible people, to enjoy and to share with others.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A collection of vignettes from the American stew pot, written for broadcast on National Public Radio by men and women from every racial, cultural, and economic stratum. Auster, who proposed the National Story Project in 1999 and has been reading the results on NPR ever since, has received more than 4,000 submissions since the project began. He culled 179 of them for this volume, few more than two or three pages long, some as brief as half a page. Placing no limits on subject matter, Auster asked his listeners only for anecdotes that "revealed the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives." What he got were tales ranging from spectral apparitions in the bedroom to painful custody trials, with a preponderant emphasis on childhood memories. The collection he shaped from this material encompasses the comic and the tragic, the absurd and the surreal, the mundane and the ethereal. The title story, for instance, recounts a bizarre incident from the writer's youth, when his father in a burst of justifiable irritation told a cranky neighbor to "drop dead"-and the neighbor did. "The Chicken," which opens the collection, is a provocative six-sentence tale about a bird's adventure on the streets of Portland, Oregon. The volume is divided somewhat arbitrarily into 10 chapters, beginning with "Animals" and concluding with "Meditations"; "War," "Death," "Love," and "Slapstick" fall in between. The prose can be awkward, pretentious, or occasionally elegant, but for the most part it's simple and direct. "A Shot in the Light," for instance, relates the story of a man who was shot four times by a stranded motorist he had befriended. Victim and shooter survive, and the piece shows forgivenesson both sides, but the author makes no attempt to relate the incident to larger religious or political themes. Bedside fodder for general readers and a bonanza for fiction writers looking for core stories to launch a novel. Author tour
Read an Excerpt
I told the listeners that I was looking for stories. The stories had to be true, and they had to be short, but there would be no restrictions as to subject matter or style. What interested me most, I said, were stories that defied our expectations of the world, anecdotes that revealed the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives, in our family histories, in our minds and bodies, in our souls . . . I was hoping to put together an archive of facts, a museum of American reality.
More than ever, I have come to appreciate how deeply and passionately most of us live within ourselves. Our attachments are ferocious. Our loves overwhelm us, define us, obliterate the boundaries between ourselves and others. from the Prologue
So there was Mr. Bernhauser yelling at us to get the hell out of his tree, and my father asked him what the problem was. Mr. Bernhauser took a deep breath and launched into a diatribe about thieving kids, breakers of rules, takers of fruit, and monsters in general. I guess my father had had enough, for the next thing he did was shout at Mr. Bernhauser and tell him to drop dead. Mr. Bernhauser stopped screaming, looked at my father, turned bright red, then purple, grabbed his chest, turned gray, and slowly folded to the ground. I thought my father was God. That he could yell at a miserable old man and make him die on command was beyond my comprehension. Robert Winnie Bonners Ferry, Idaho