October 31, 2013

The Book of Other People

Compiled and Edited by Zadie Smith

The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories about, well, other people. Fictional people, that is – Zadie Smith’s introduction clarifies that the instruction to the contributors was simply to make somebody up. So 23 talented writers made somebody up, wrote a story about them, and here is the finished product: The Book of Other People.


The first story in the collection, Judith Castle, is from one of my favorite writers, David Mitchell. One of my friends from the book club mentioned having read and liked it and, because I've only this year completed reading all of Mitchell’s full-length novels, I wondered where he was able to read a copy. He directed me to this book, and while it took me a while to start on it - months, in fact, from the time I received my ordered copy - I was excited to devour it nonetheless. Just as my friend said I would, I did love Judith Castle.

It would turn out to be one of only a handful of stories – a measly 6 out of 23, to be exact – that would appeal to me from this collection.

The other five would be Hanwell Snr by Zadie Smith, the story of Hanwell the father and his disappearing acts on Hanwell the son; J. Johnson by Nick Hornby, with illustrations by Posy Simmonds, a series of profiles about the same person and his literary career (or lack thereof); Lele by Edwidge Danticat (first time I’ve encountered the name), the story of a pregnant woman waiting for the river to claim the house she lives in; Roy Spivey by Miranda July, about the narrator recounting her one-time experience sitting next to a celebrity on a plane; and Theo by Dave Eggers, a love triangle involving three giants.



One particular story, Jordan Wellington Lint by Chris Ware, was uniquely told - it was in the form of illustrations, sort of a graphic story, but without much text (yes, less text than your usual graphic novels). While it was strikingly different, it took me some time to actually understand what was going on - my initial problem with reading graphic novels, to be honest - so reading it required a bit more effort than the others.

***

Because 23 stories means 23 different writing styles, this book provided me a glimpse, a taste, of each writer’s work. It allowed me to "sample" each writer for future consideration – would I still read something that Miranda July or Nick Hornby wrote? Or perhaps something else from Jonathan Safran Foer or ZZ Packer?

The Book of Other People is a hit-or-miss book; unfortunately, it had more misses than hits.

But don’t take my word for it.

Book Details: Trade paperback, brand-new ordered from Book Depository
Rating: ★★★

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