Book Review: Readings

Profits from the sales of this priceless anthology of short stories will benefit 826NYC


The Book of Other People

Edited by Zadie Smith
Penguin, 304 pp, $15 (paper)

Here's a collection of short stories, or sometimes character studies passing as short stories, gathered and edited by a woman who knows her way around contemporary fiction to the point of creating excellent examples of it herself. Profits from the sales of the book will benefit 826NYC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids ages 6 to 18 learn to write creatively and effectively. All the stories in this collection, then, written with the injunction to simply "make somebody up," were donated pro bono for inclusion in a volume that comes further blessed with a striking Charles Burns cover.

"You get what you pay for," is a maxim likely familiar to anyone who's weathered parental opinion. Funny, because most of the stories in this collection are worth so much. Very funny, because a few of them are priceless and would, separately, enrich your life to a greater extent than suggested by the less-than-a-Jackson you'll have to trade for the whole megillah.

Among the fattest rewards: A.L. Kennedy's "Frank," an account of the suffering and confusion experienced by an autistic (we're assuming) police specialist, written with such crystalline precision as to make the author seem genetically derived from an outcropping of living quartz; Chris Ware's "Jordan Wellington Lint," which chronicles a boy from birth to age 13 in full-color panels that highlight the holy and grisly minutiae of childhood as effectively as they realize the potential of sequential art; George Saunders' "Puppy," another of the writer's darkly satirical explorations that evoke a modern-day Faulkner scripting for some deeper version of The Simpsons; and Jonathan Lethem's "Perkus Tooth," a narrative that intoxicates the reader with literary wine borrowed lovingly from the cellars of Borges, spiked with sweat from the forehead of Philip K. Dick and served in flawless tumblers on an old TV tray.

Other contributors' names to conjure with: Miranda July, Vendela Vida, Daniel Clowes, A.M. Homes, and more. We'll mark Nick Hornby's "J. Johnson," illustrated by Posy Simmonds, as just a clever confection, but that's the least of what you'll find in this – highly recommended – book.

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The Book of Other People, The Book of Other People, Zadie Smith

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