The Book of Other People
Edited by Zadie Smith
"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 and 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."
Gargh….I really wanted to love this book. I really did. From the beautiful jacket design by Charles Burns to the list of great authors (Daniel Clowes, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers) who contribute work to the book…on paper, this should work. It’s such a cool idea.
A bunch of authors were contacted by Zadie Smith and given the brief to “create a character”. The resulting stories were to be collected in a book to raise money for 826NYC, a charity organisation run by Dave eggers which operates various creative writing classes for school children.
It’s such a great idea….it should work…but, it doesn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a bunch of great stories here, several I’ll happily return to in the future and several by authors I’d never heard of, whose work I’ll be sure to check out in the future.
The problem with this book is, while there are many great stories, the stories that aren’t so great have a tendency to suck all the joy from the reader. No matter how much I loved some of these stories, the bad stuff left me with no desire to pick up the book and continue.
In terms of the good stuff, there’s a good mix of styles here, from the traditional story telling of stories like “Judith Castle” by David Mitchell (a comedic but heartbreaking short) to inventive comic strips like “Jordon Wellington Lint” by Chris Ware, to more experimental fare like Nick Hornby’s “J. Johnston” which tells a characters life story through a series of “about the author” blurbs in a series of books.
These stories are all great and, if you can get this book at a decent price, I’d recommend picking it up just for these, unfortunately the majority of the stories are pretty dull. I can barely recall details for many of the lesser tales here, as I read my brain just switched off, wishing it was somewhere else entirely.
I’d wanted to get round to this book for a few years and had such high hopes for it. Sadly, I was let down…not completely….but massively. Worth picking up if you can get it cheap, but I’d avoid it otherwise.