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" (New York 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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Overview

The true-life stories in this unique collection provide "a window into the American mind and heart" (New York 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 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.”
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780783897653
  • Publisher: Macmillan Library Reference
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 704
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

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.

Biography

Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences.

This sentence from the opening of Paul Auster's first novel, City of Glass, could also serve as a template for the author's career, both in circumstance and theme. City of Glass is perhaps the best known of Auster's postmodern detective New York Trilogy, which is rounded out by Ghosts and The Locked Room. Though the novels nominally involve cases to be solved, at base they are about the mystery of identity and how easily it can be lost or altered. In City of Glass, a mystery writer mistakenly receives a phone call for detective Paul Auster and assumes his identity, becoming embroiled in a case. The trilogy was a welcome breath of fresh air for both detective stories and postmodernist writing, and it put Auster on the publishing map.

Setting out to write his subsequent novel, Auster kept in mind the subtitle "Anna Blume Walks Through the 20th Century." The result was a woman's post-apocalyptic urban journey, In the Country of Last Things. Subsequent works such as Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, Leviathan, and Mr. Vertigo offered heroes caught up in strange worlds, playing out their stories over existential subtexts. The Music of Chance carries references from Beckett's Waiting for Godot in its story about a drifter who ends up teaming with a card player named Jack Pozzi to hustle two wealthy eccentrics in a fateful poker game. In Mr. Vertigo, a boy who has the ability to levitate goes on the road in the 1920s as "the Wonder Boy," moving through a panorama of pre-Depression America.

Auster's ability to blur the line between fantasy and reality has resulted in unique stories that never operate solely as good yarns. The New York Times wrote of Leviathan -- a dead man's coincidence-ridden story, as narrated by his friend -- "Thus in the literary looking glass of Leviathan, in which things are not always what they seem, our pleasure in reading the story is enhanced by the challenge of making other connections." Auster's fondness for allegory has earned him both praise for his cleverness and criticism from reviewers who, even as they praise his talent, occasionally find him heavy-handed.

The director Philip Haas adapted The Music of Chance for the 1993 film starring James Spader and Mandy Patinkin. But it was Wayne Wang who drew Auster to the movie business in earnest, convincing him to write the screenplay for 1995's Smoke, which was adapted from the short story "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story." The film did well enough to get producer Miramax on board for a sequel bringing back star Harvey Keitel, Blue in the Face. This time, Auster not only wrote the script but co-directed with Wang; he later went full-fledged auteur with the 1998 film (also starring Keitel) Lulu on the Bridge.

In 1999, Auster made the unconventional choice of writing from a canine's point of view in Timbuktu -- although as Auster noted in the Guardian, Mr. Bones "is and isn't a dog." In telling the story of himself and his owner, a homeless "outlaw poet" named Willy G. Christmas, Mr. Bones offers a meditation on mortality, human relationships, and dreams. "If anything," Auster said in a chat with Barnes & Noble.com readers, "I thought of Willy and Mr. Bones as a rather screwball, nutty, latter-day version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the befuddled knight-errant and his loyal squire." The New York Times called Timbuktu his "most touching, most emotionally accessible book."

Auster earned some of his best reviews with his tenth novel The Book of Illusions, about a widower who develops an obsession with an obscure silent-film star and is surprised with an invitation to meet the presumed-dead actor. Book magazine called it "certainly his best...the book [has] the drive and dazzle reminiscent of the classic hardboiled yarns of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett."

Auster is an author who, in both his fiction and his nonfiction, rekindles hope for the romantic, the coincidental, and the magical in everyday life. He does this not with fantastic story lines but by heightening the significance of twists and coincidences that happen to us all the time -- if we approach things in a certain light, our lives become like movies. Auster spins the projector.

Good To Know

Auster's wife Siri Hustvedt, whom he met in 1981, is also a novelist and essayist; writing about her novel The Blindfold, the Village Voice Literary Supplement called Hustvedt "a writer of strong, sometimes astonishing gifts." Auster's first wife was writer Lydia Davis.

Desperately poor in the late '70s and working unhappily as a French translator to make ends meet, Auster wrote a detective novel called Squeeze Play to make some money. He also invented a card game called Action Baseball that he tried to sell to game manufacturers. However, Squeeze Play is "not a legitimate book," he told the Guardian; it was published under a pseudonym. Later, an inheritance from his father allowed Auster the financial freedom to focus more on his writing.

Auster has enjoyed a remarkably international following, even in the days before his Hollywood projects raised his profile; his novels have been translated into several languages, and web sites from Germany to Japan pay him homage.

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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

Introduction
The Chicken 3
Rascal 4
The Yellow Butterfly 6
Python 7
Pooh 9
New York Stray 11
Pork Chop 12
B 14
Two Loves 16
Rabbit Story 17
Carolina 19
Andy and the Snake 21
Blue Skies 24
Exposure 25
Vertigo 27
Star and Chain 33
Radio Gypsy 34
A Bicycle Story 36
Grandmother's China 39
The Bass 41
Mother's Watch 44
Case Closed 46
The Photo 47
MS. Found in an Attic 49
Tempo Primo 50
A Lesson Not Learned 52
A Family Christmas 52
My Rocking Chair 55
The Unicycle 57
Moccasins 59
The Striped Pen 61
The Doll 63
The Videotape 66
The Purse 68
A Gift of Gold 70
Rainout 75
Isolation 76
Connections 78
The Wednesday Before Christmas 80
How My Father Lost His Job 82
Danny Kowalski 85
Revenge 87
Chris 89
Put Your Little Foot 92
Aunt Myrtle 95
American Odyssey 97
A Plate of Peas 99
Wash Guilt 101
Double Sadness 103
A Picture of Life 106
Margie 109
One Thousand Dollars 111
Taking Leave 114
Act of Memory 120
Bicoastal 125
A Felt Fedora 126
Man vs. coat 127
That's Entertainment 128
The Cake 129
Riding With Andy 131
Sophisticated Lady 132
My First Day in Priest Clothes 133
Jewish Cowboy 134
How to Win Friends and Influence People 135
Your Father Has the Hay Fever 136
Lee Ann and Holly Ann 139
Why I Am Antifur 140
Airport Story 142
Tears and Flapdoodle 144
The Club Car 146
Bronx Cheer 148
One Day in Higley 150
Dancing on Seventy-fourth Street 153
A Conversation with Bill 154
Greyhounding 156
A Little Story about New York 159
My Mistake 162
No Forwarding Address 164
The New Girl 165
The Iceman of Market Street 168
Me and the Babe 171
Lives of the Poets 172
Land of the Lost 173
Rainbow 175
Rescued by God 177
My Story 179
Small World 183
Christmas Morning, 1949 186
Brooklyn Roberts 188
$1,380 per Night, Double Occupancy 190
A Shot in the Light 195
Snow 202
The Fastest Man in the Union Army 207
Christmas, 1862 208
Mount Grappa 210
Savenay 212
Fifty Years Later 213
He Was the Same Age as My Sister 214
Betting on Uncle Louie 216
The Ten-Goal Player 218
The Last Hand 220
August 1945 222
One Autumn Afternoon 224
I Thought My Father Was God 226
The Celebration 228
Christmas, 1945 230
A Trunk Full of Memories 232
A Walk in the Sun 235
A Shot in the Dark 237
Confessions of a Mouseketeer 239
Forever 241
Utah, 1975 243
What If? 247
The Mysteries of Tortellini 249
An Involuntary Assistant 251
The Plot 253
Mathematical Aphrodisiac 255
Table for Two 257
Suzy's Choosy 259
Top Button 260
Lace Gloves 262
Susan's Greetings 263
Edith 264
Souls Fly Away 267
Awaiting Delivery 269
The Day Paul and I Flew the Kite 270
A Lesson in Love 272
Ballerina 274
The Fortune Cookie 276
Ashes 279
Harrisburg 281
Something to Think About 283
Good Night 285
Charlie the Tree Killer 287
Dead Man's Bluff 288
My Best Friend 290
I Didn't Know 291
Cardiac Arrests 293
Grandmother's Funeral 294
High Street 296
A Failed Execution 297
The Ghost 299
Heart Surgery 301
The Crying Place 302
Lee 303
South Dakota 305
Connecting with Phil 308
The Letter 310
Dress Rehearsal 312
The Anonymous Deciding Factor 315
4:05 a.m 319
In the Middle of the Night 320
Blood 321
T321 Interpretation of Dreams 322
Half-Ball 323
Friday Night 325
Farrell 327
"Jill" 329
D-day 330
The Wall 331
Heaven 333
My Father's Dream 335
Parallel Lives 337
Anna May 340
Long Time Gone 342
Sewing Lessons 347
Sunday Drive 350
Mayonnaise Sandwiches 354
Seaside 355
After a Long Winter 358
Martini with a Twist 359
Nowhere 362
Where in the World Is Era Rose Rodosta? 363
Peter 365
Early Arithmetic 368
Reflections on a Hubcap 371
Homeless in Prescott 373
Being There 376
An Average Sadness 378
Index of Authors 381
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