I Thought My Father Was God: And Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project


The true-life stories in this unique collection provide "a window into the American mind and heart" (The Daily News). One hundred and eighty voices - male and female, young and old, from all walks of life and all over the country - talk intimately to the reader. Combining great humor and pathos this remarkable selection of stories from the thousands submitted to NPR's Weekend All Things Considered National Story Project gives the reader a glimpse of America's soul in all its ...

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I Thought My Father Was God: And Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project

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The true-life stories in this unique collection provide "a window into the American mind and heart" (The Daily News). One hundred and eighty voices - male and female, young and old, from all walks of life and all over the country - talk intimately to the reader. Combining great humor and pathos this remarkable selection of stories from the thousands submitted to NPR's Weekend All Things Considered National Story Project gives the reader a glimpse of America's soul in all its diversity.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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."
From the Publisher
“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.” —The Boston Globe

“Unforgettable testimonials of human resilience. Moving and amusing dispatches from across America.” —Us Weekly (starred review)

“Human foibles and frailties, laughter and tears...We are all hearing—and telling—stories 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 listen—to really listen—to America talking.” —The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

“Finally, a bathroom book worthy of Pulitzer consideration: the one-to-three-page stories gathered in this astonishing, addictive collection are absolute gems.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“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.”—The Guardian (UK)

“As this collection ably proves, we all shape experience into stories, and Auster has done a storyteller’s job himself of grouping these pieces effectively. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Like no other book I have read in years, this one restored my belief in Americans and the American experience.” —Philip Levine, Ploughshares

From The Critics
Two years ago, on National Public Radio's "Weekend All Things Considered," Auster introduced the National Story Project. In an attempt "to put together an archive of facts, a museum of American reality," he welcomed anyone to submit a story, following two rules: it must be true and it must be short. This book collects 179 stories-Auster calls them "reports from the frontlines of personal experience"-picked from over 4,000 entries. There is the unassuming yet beautiful portrait of a summer afternoon in a 1960s Manhattan neighborhood; the story of a man given leave after fifteen years in prison to attend his grandmother's funeral; and a homeless woman's account of her living situation. There are impossible coincidences, eerie omens and visions, and tales of love and war and family and death.
—Ted Waitt

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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
Sunday Oklahoman
“A wonderful story collection...and something that would make a great gift for the holidays.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312421007
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/7/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 484,275
  • Product dimensions: 5.49 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Auster

Paul Auster is the author of ten novels, including Timbuktu, which was a national bestseller, and most recently The Book of Illusions. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Paul Benjamin
    2. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 3, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., M.A., Columbia University, 1970

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

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Table of Contents



"The Chicken," Linda Elegant

"Rascal," Yale Huffman

"The Yellow Butterfly," Simonette Jackson

"Python," Judith Beth Cohen

"Pooh," Patricia Lambert

"New York Stray," Edith S. Marks

"Pork Chop," Eric Wynn

"B," Suzanne Stroh

"Two Loves," Will Coffey

"Rabbit Story," Barry Foy

"Carolina," Kelly O'Neill

"Andy and the Snake," Ron Fabian

"Blue Skies," Corki Stewart

"Exposure," Michael Oppenheimer

"Vertigo," Janet Schmidt Zupan


"Star and Chain," Steve Lacheen

"Radio Gypsy," Bill Calm

"A Bicycle Story," Edith Riemer

"Grandmother's China," Kristine Lundquist

"The Bass," Mark Snyder

"Mother's Watch," Raymond Barry

"Case Closed," Jerry Hoke

"The Photo," Beverly Peterson

"MS. Found in an Attic," Marcus Rosenbaum

"Tempo Primo," Lauren Shapiro

"A Lesson Not Learned," Carol Sherman-Jones

"A Family Christmas," Don Graves

"My Rocking Chair," Dick Bain

"The Unicycle," Gordon Lee Stelter

"Moccasins," Fr. Keith Clark

"The Striped Pen," Robert M. Rock

"The Doll," Robert McGee

"The Videotape," Marie Johnson

"The Purse," Barbara Hudin

"A Gift of Gold," John Keith


"Rainout," Stan Benkoski

"Isolation," Lucy Hayden

"Connections," Miriam Rosenzweig

"The Wednesday Before Christmas," Jack Fear

"How My Father Lost His Job," Fred Muratori

"Danny Kowalski," Charlie Peters

"Revenge" Eric Brotman

"Chris," Edwina Portelle Romero

"Put Your Little Foot," Anna Thorson

"Aunt Myrtle," Laura Braughton Waters

"American Odyssey," Jane Adams

"A Plate of Peas," Rick Beyer

"Wash Guilt," Heather Atwood

"Double Sadness," Martha Russell Hsu

"A Picture of Life," Jeanine Mankins

"Margie," Christine Kravetz

"One Thousand Dollars," I.Z.

"Taking Leave," Joe Miceli

"Act of Memory," Mary Grace Dembeck


"Bi-Coastal," Beth Kivel

"A Felt Fedora," Joan Wilkins Stone

"Man vs. Coat," Mel Singer

"That's Entertainment," Nancy Wilson

"Riding With Andy," Jim Furlong

"Sophisticated Lady," Joan Vanden Heuvel

"My First Day in Priest Clothes," Eugene O'Brien

"Jewish Cowboy," Jennifer Pye

"How to Win Friends and Influence People," Jerry Yellin

"Your Father Has the Hay Fever," Tony Powell

"Lee Ann and Holly Ann," Holly A. Heffelbower

"Why I am Anti-Fur," Freddie Levin

"Airport Story," Randy Welch

"Tears and Flapdoodle," Alice Owens-Johnson

"The Club Car," John Flannelly

"Bronx Cheer," Joe Rizzo

"One Day in Higley," Carl Brooksby


"Dancing on Seventy-fourth Street," Catherine Austin Alexander

"A Conversation with Bill," John Brawley

"Greyhounding," Beth Twiggar Goff

"A Little Story About New York," Dana T. Payne

"My Mistake," Ludlow Perry

"No Forwarding Address," Josh Dorman

"The New Girl," Marc Mitchell

"The Iceman of Market Street," R.C. Van Kooy

"Me and the Babe," Saul Isler

"Lives of the Poets," Clayton Eshleman

"Land of the Lost," Erica Hagen

"Rainbow," Katie Letcher Lyle

"Rescued by God," Mary Ann Garrett

"My Story," Rachel Watson

"Small World," Paul K. Humiston

"Christmas Morning, 1949," Sylvia Seymour Akin

"Brooklyn Roberts," Adolph Lopez

"$1,380 Per Night, Double Occupancy," Bruce Edward Hall0

"A Shot in the Light," Lion Goodman

"Snow," Juliana C. Nash


"The Fastest Man in the Union Army," Michael Kuretich

"Christmas 1862," Grace Sale Wilson

"Mount Grappa," Mary Parsons Burkett

"Savenay," Harold Tapper

"Fifty Years Later," Gisela Cloos Evitt

"He Was the Same Age as My Sister," Mieke C. Malandra

"Betting on Uncle Louie," Jeanne W. Halpern

"The Ten-Goal Player," Paul Ebeltoft

"The Last Hand," Bill Helmantoler

"August 1945," Robert C. North and Dorothy North

"One Autumn Afternoon," Willa Parks Ward

"I Thought My Father Was God," Robert Winnie

"The Celebration," Reginald Thayer

"Christmas 1945," Lloyd Hustvedt

"A Trunk Full of Memories," Morton N. Cohen

"A Walk in the Sun," Donald Zucker

"A Shot in the Dark," David Ayres

"Confessions of a Mouseketeer," Doreen Tracey

"Forever," Maria Barcelona

"Utah, 1975," Steve Hale


"What if?," Theodore Lustig

"The Mysteries of Tortellini," Kristina Streeter

"An Involuntary Assistant," C.W. Schmitt

"The Plot," Bev Ford

"Mathematical Aphrodisiac," Alex Galt

"Table for Two," Lori Peikoff

"Suzy's Choosy," Suzanne Druehl

"Top Button," Earl Roberts

"Lace Gloves," Karen Cycon Dermody

"Susan's Greetings," Susan Sprague

"Edith," Bill Froke

"Souls Fly Away," Laura McHugh

"Awaiting Delivery," John Wiley

"The Day Paul and I Flew the Kite," Ann Davis

"A Lesson in Love," Alvin Rosser

"Ballerina," Nicolas Wieder

"The Fortune Cookie," Sharli Land-Polanco


"Ashes," Sara Wilson

"Harrisburg," Randee Rosenfeld

"Something to Think About," P. Rohmann

"Good Night," Ellise Rossen

"Charlie the Tree Killer," Frank Young

"Dead Man's Bluff," Joel Einschlag

"My Best Friend," Olga Hardman

"I Didn't Know," Linda Marine

"Cardiac Arrests," Sherwin Waldman

"Grandmother's Funeral," Martha Duncan

"High Street," Judith Englander

"A Failed Execution," David Anderson

"The Ghost," G.A. Gonzalez

"Heart Surgery," Dr. G.

"The Crying Place," Tim Gibson

"Lee," Jodi Walters

"South Dakota," Nancy Peavy

"Connecting with Phil," Tom Sellew

"The Letter," Brian F. McGee

"Dress Rehearsal," Ellen Powell

"The Anonymous Deciding Factor," Hollie Caldwell Campanella


"4:05 A.M.," Matthew Menary

"In the Middle of the Night," Steve Harper

"Blood," James Sharpsteen

"The Interpretation of Dreams," V. Ferguson-Stewart

"Half-Ball," Jack Edmonston

"Friday Night," Steve Hodgman

"Farrell," Stew Schneider

"Jill," Kara Husson

"D-Day," Richard R. Rosman

"The Wall," Vicky Johnson

"Heaven," Grace Fichtelberg

"My Father's Dream," Mary McCallum

"Parallel Lives," Timothy Ackerman

"Anna May," Jeff Raper

"Long Time Gone," Lynn Duvall


"Sewing Lessons," Donna M. Bronner

"Sunday Drive," Bob Ayers

"Mayonnaise Sandwiches," Thomas Corrado

"Seaside," Tanya Collins

"After a Long Winter," Eileen O'Hara

"Martini With a Twist," Dede Ryan

"Nowhere," John Howze

"Where in the World is Era Rose Rodosta?," Carolyn Brasher

"Peter," Mark Gover

"At Sixes and Sevens," Sandra Waller

"Reflections on a Hubcap," Roger Brinkerhoff

"Homeless in Prescott, Arizona," B.C.

"Being There," Tim Clancy

"An Average Sadness," Ameni Rozsa

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2006

    Warming American Hearts

    Memorable events spark personal feelings. Lessons may be learned from others' experiences. Warning: Do not read introduction to book. A horrific picture will settle in your mind.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2003


    Great book! I especially liked BALLERINA, very well written.. I'd say the author should take up writing short stories. I'm not American, live in Europe and thought it was a good idea to get a better picture of this people.. I have..!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2002

    A Privilege to Be Included

    Among the four thousand entries, imagine my surprise when my story (T321 Interpretation of Dreams) was included in the book. Once I received my copy, I promptly sat down and began reading. Hours later, I realized how amazing it is to see how each of us, not matter how ordinary, have extraordinary occurances in our own lives. It is an honor to be included, and you will not be sorry that you purchased this book! From stories about war to lost loves reunited, you will treasure the brief moments you get to share with each author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2001

    A Tribute to Life

    What a wonderful collection of short stories to help us realize we are all connected at some level, that we are all human, that there runs a common thread among us. A must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2001


    Fantastic compendium of real life, unpasturized and un-homoginized. Great stories and great writing! I especially liked 'Andy & the Snake' by this guy named Fabian (is that a real name?). I got chills reading it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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